Whilst their fantastical ‘dragon’ moniker may conjure up images of fearsome, fire-breathing mythical creatures, Bearded Dragons are, in fact, some of the most docile and friendly members of the reptile kingdom. Many of us have welcomed these prehistoric lizards into our homes as beloved family pets, intrigued by their quirky personalities, fascinating behaviours, and unique appearances.
Keep reading to learn 27 spellbinding facts about Bearded Dragons!
- Despite their name, Bearded Dragons are in fact reptilians and not Dragons! The genus Pogona belongs to the lizard family Agamidae. Pogona contains six distinct species of lizard that are most commonly known as Bearded Dragons.
- It is thought that Bearded Dragons first evolved from a distant reptilian ancestor around 250 million years ago, during the early Triassic period, just before the first dinosaurs began to evolve. The oldest fossil record of Bearded Dragons was discovered in India in 2006 and dates back to around 220 million years ago.
- Bearded Dragons are so-called because of the expandable, spiky, undersides of their throats, which are reminiscent of large, dark beards. These beards can be expanded or retracted as a means of communication, both to other Breaded Dragons and potential predators. When stressed, threatened, or agitated, the ‘beard’ expands and turns black to ward off any threats by making them appear larger and more threatening. The beard also plays an important role during mating and can be puffed out to attract a partner.
- The genus name Pogona is derived from the Ancient Greek pogon meaning ‘beard’.
- Aside from their characteristic ‘beards’, Bearded Dragons are identifiable by their scaly and spiky bodies, with broad, almost triangular heads. They can grow up to two feet long, with their tails usually making up more than half their total body length. In the wild, they arealmost always a pale yellow or brown colour, however captive Bearded Dragons display much more varied and vibrant colourings due to specialised breeding.
- Like all lizards, Bearded Dragons are ectotherms, which means they cannot regulate their body temperature internally and instead rely on external environmental factors to regulate their temperature. They will often sit with their mouths gaping wide open as a way to cool down in hot weather and dig deep underground burrows which helps them to avoid the hot summer sun and stay cool.
- Bearded Dragons can change colour to help regulate their temperature in response to external temperature stimuli. Their scales will become paler in very hot conditions to reflect heat, and become darker to absorb heat in very cool weather.
- All six species of Bearded Dragon are native to Australia, where they can be found living in mostly arid, subtropical habitats, such as deserts, woodlands, and coastlines, but they are even known to live happily in more urban areas. They are semi-arboreal, meaning they like to spend time high up off the ground, resting in tree branches. They also like to rest on rocks, bushes, and logs to bask in the hot sun.
- Bearded Dragons are omnivorous, existing on a mixed diet of insects, small rodents, and vegetation, but they are much more inclined to catch live prey than to eat plants. Their diets are seasonal, meaning they adapt to the food available to them in any given season.
- In captivity, Bearded Dragons can live for around 10 to 15 years. The oldest recorded captive Bearded Dragon was 18 years old. Wild Bearded Dragons have shorter lifespans, as they are often hunted as prey by other wild animals such as foxes, dingos, snakes, and birds of prey.
- Bearded Dragons will lift their arms up and make a waving motion as a sign of submission to other Dragons.
- Bearded Dragons display dominance by bobbing their heads. Males will also bob their heads to attract females, who are most attracted to dominant males. Females will bob their heads at a slower rate to reciprocate the romance before mating.
- Brumation is a nuanced form of hibernation, which Bearded Dragons will undergo if the climate becomes too cool. Like hibernation, Bearded Dragons will not consume any food during the brumation period, sometimes for months on end, but unlike hibernation, they will drink water sporadically.
- Bearded Dragons do not urinate liquid like humans and most other animals. Instead, they secrete a chalky, white, powdery substance of highly concentrated toxins called uric acid. They do this so that they can avoid dehydration in hot weather by retaining as much moisture as possible.
- Although territorial, Bearded Dragons are generally placid and docile creatures. They rarely bite and enjoy being handled, which is why they are so popular as pets.
- Captive Bearded Dragons have been carefully bred over many years to produce a number of special and unique traits which are rarely found in their wild counterparts. These special Dragons are known as ‘Morphs’, and exhibit traits such as translucent scales (trans), all-white scales (zero), and even no scales at all (silkies).
- Australia, where Bearded Dragons are endemic, banned the export of wildlife during the 1960s. Because of this, almost all pet Bearded Dragons have been bred in captivity.
- In Hawaii, it is illegal to keep a Bearded Dragon as a pet. This is because they would pose a threat to the native ecosystem and environment if they were to be let loose.
- Bearded Dragons are venomous! On the rare occasions when they do bite, they release a very small amount of venom, similar to that of a rattlesnake, which can paralyse or kill insects and other small prey. Although mostly harmless to humans because of the tiny amount secreted, it can cause swelling and bleeding, but no lasting effects. We only learned about this venom in 2005!
- Bearded Dragons run on two legs, like humans! The reasons for this are debated. One theory is that the upright position allows the Dragon to regulate their temperature better whilst exerting energy since their bodies are exposed to greater airflow. Another theory suggests that the upright running motion is due to an evolutionary fault that causes their centre of gravity to become destabilised whilst travelling at high speeds, shifting backwards and causing their body to tilt vertically. Whilst running in this manner, Bearded Dragons can reach top speeds of around 9mph.
- Unlike most lizards, Bearded Dragons cannot intentionally detach their tails to escape from predators. The only way they can lose their tails is either through injury or illness. Neither can they regrow their tail if it becomes detached, in the way that Geckos can.
- They may not be able to regrow a lost tail, but Bearded Dragons can regenerate lost teeth! They will shed and renew their front teeth periodically, in much the same way as they shed their skin.
- Bearded Dragons shed their skin regularly throughout their lives as they grow since their skin isn’t able to stretch. Every time they shed, their colour and pattern will change ever so slightly, often the change is so subtle that it is not noticeable to the naked eye.
- Female Bearded Dragons can store sperm throughout the breeding season, meaning that they can lay more than one clutch of fertilised eggs in a season, without having to mate again.
- Bearded Dragons can survive being born with two heads! Although incredibly rare, with around a one in 25 million chance, bicephalic (two-headed) Bearded Dragons have been known to live fairly healthy and normal lives and can command huge prices from collectors and reptile enthusiasts. It is usually caused when twin Dragons are developing inside a single egg, but there is not enough space for them to both develop independently.
- Bearded Dragons can swim and float in water by inflating themselves with air to aid buoyancy! They are able to hold their breath underwater for between 10 and 15 minutes.
- Bearded Dragons have three eyes! Two of them are positioned in the usual reptilian place at the sides of the head. This position gives them excellent peripheral vision and aids in spotting potential predators. The third eye, known as the parietal eye, is located right on the top of their heads and looks like a tiny grey dot covered by a clear scale. The parietal eye cannot see images, instead, it senses changes in light conditions and shadows, alerting the Bearded Dragon to potential predators which may be flying overhead. It also aids with thermoregulation and helps the Dragon to detect which time of day or which season it is depending on the amount of sunlight it is exposed to. It also acts as a natural GPS system, helping the Dragon to navigate depending on the position of the sun.
These fascinating ancient reptilians have roamed the planet for millennia, evolving alongside the dinosaurs, thriving in the Australian wilderness, and flourishing as much loved house pets. Their characteristic beards, eccentric mannerisms, and friendly personalities make them a firm favourite amongst reptile enthusiasts, far from the fearsome predators that their name might falsely suggest. These bearded beauties are surely some of the most intriguing and enchanting members of the animal kingdom!