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Why Does a Bearded Dragon Puff Up Its Beard? (5 Reasons)

In the captivating world of reptiles, the bearded dragon stands out with its unique display of puffing up its “beard”. This behavior, which makes them look similar to a small mythical dragon, has sparked curiosity among herpetologists and reptile enthusiasts, raising the question, “Why does a bearded dragon puff up its beard?”

In this article, we’ll examine some of the reasons behind this interesting behavior and learn what it tells us about these fascinating creatures. 

Why does a bearded dragon puff up its beard?

Reptile Bearded Dragons
Reptile Bearded Dragons by Gerhard from Pixabay

A bearded dragon may puff out its beard as a display of territorial dominance, a protective reaction when feeling threatened, as part of courting and mating rituals, an indication of stress or agitation, while consuming food, or to assist in the process of shedding.

Article Highlights:

  • Bearded dragons puff their beards for various reasons, such as showing territory, feeling scared, attracting a mate, helping with shedding, or making more room for food. 
  • These animals may show other behaviors to communicate their emotions, such as waving, bobbing their heads, basking, changing color, digging, and gaping.
  • Bearded dragons may trust and show affection by staying or resting on their owners. 

Reasons why bearded dragons puff up their beards

1. Territorial display

Bearded dragon on the floor
Bearded dragon on the floor

One reason a bearded dragon might puff up their beard is to display territorial behavior. They typically direct this behavior towards other similar species or things they see as threats, like larger animals or humans. These reptiles puff up their beards to look bigger and scarier, which scares other animals away from entering their space.

In the wild, they’re solitary creatures and control distinct territories. When another bearded dragon or potential threat enters this space, the resident dragon puffs up its beard as a signal to back off. This can happen in captivity when a new bearded dragon is introduced, the enclosure is too small, or when another pet gets too close often.

2. Fear or threat response

In addition to being a territorial display, the bearded dragon’s beard puffing behavior is also a typical reaction to fear or perceived threats. They use this defensive strategy when feeling threatened or in a stressful situation. This change in appearance may deter some threats, and they can also open their mouths wide and hiss, showing their teeth to make the threat display stronger. 

Bearded dragons shouldn’t repeatedly puff up due to fear or stress, as it’s unhealthy behavior. If a captive beardie puffs its beard frequently, it could mean that something in its environment or care is stressing it. You should identify and fix the issue to ensure the dragon’s well-being.

3. Courtship and mating rituals

bearded dragons mating
Bearded dragons mating

Various behaviors indicate that a male bearded dragon is interested in a female and ready to mate. These include swiftly bobbing his head, puffing up his beard, and occasionally changing color. This display is intended to capture the female’s interest and demonstrate the male’s physical ability and desirability as a potential mate. 

4. Help with shedding

As they mature, like most other reptiles, they’ll eventually shed their skin. Depending on the dragon’s age and growth rate, this can happen several times a year. Bearded dragons may inflate their beards while shedding their skin to facilitate the process. 

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Because the shedding skin can be constricting and slightly uncomfortable, puffing up the beard can provide additional space under the skin, which helps to split the old layer away from the new one underneath it. 

5. Advantage when eating 

A bearded dragon puffs up its beard during or after eating due to some factors. In the wild, these animals are opportunistic eaters, which means they take advantage of any food opportunities they come across. So, puffing up the beard can create more space for food intake and digestion.

Behaviorally, puffing up the beard while eating can be a defensive display. When food appears, a bearded dragon instinctively puffs up its beard to look bigger and more threatening to potential competitors. Your pet is more likely to exhibit this behavior if it’s being fed live prey or if another bearded dragon is present.

What are the different behaviors that bearded dragons use to communicate their needs?

Two bearded dragons
Two bearded dragons | image by Steve Jurvetson via Flickr | CC BY 2.0

Aside from beard puffing, bearded dragons have a unique set of behaviors that they use to communicate various needs and emotions. Listed below are some examples of these types of behaviors:

Arm waving

This looks like your pet is doing a slow wave with one of its front legs. In most cases, it’s a sign of submission, and it’s usually done in response to another bearded dragon. Additionally, it may serve as a symbol of acknowledgment.

Head bobbing

It’s a behavior that can be seen as either a display of dominance or a mating action. In most situations, changing pace in bobbing indicates communication, although slower nodding may be part of the courting behavior for these animals.

Color changes

Bearded dragon in hand
Bearded dragon on hand

Bearded dragons can alter the color of their skin for several reasons. Alterations in coloration can signify excitement, stress, or the body’s attempt to control its temperature. 

Basking

Your pet dragon needs heat for digestion, so it’s usual for them to spend a lot of time basking beneath their heat lamp. However, if your beardie is always basking and rarely moving, it may be too cold in the enclosure.

Digging or scratching

Bearded dragons may dig or scratch at the enclosure when bored, stressed, or trying to escape. This behavior may also occur when they’re trying to get out of their enclosure. Females may also dig when they’re ready to lay eggs.

Gaping

Bearded dragon gaping
Bearded dragon gaping | Image by PublicDomainPictures from Pixabay

This is when this animal opens its mouth wide. This method releases excess heat from the body, comparable to how a dog pants. 

Remember that it’s important to put all of these actions into context. The same behavior can be interpreted in various ways depending on the situation. Your pet’s natural activities can be better understood if you observe them regularly, which can also help you recognize potential problems.

Do bearded dragon bites hurt?

Yes, a bearded dragon can indeed cause pain if it bites. Although they’re typically calm animals and biting isn’t a regular activity, they can bite if they feel threatened, frightened, or aren’t handled appropriately.

An adult beardie can break the skin and cause a small puncture wound and some pain if it bites. Depending on the dragon’s size and the bite’s location, the degree of discomfort or pain felt from the bite may vary. Bearded dragon bites are usually not serious, but they can cause surprise and discomfort, especially if the bite comes unexpectedly.

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How do bearded dragons show affection?

Bearded dragons don’t feel emotions like mammals do but show behaviors that suggest trust and comfort with their human caretakers. If your pet doesn’t puff up its beard, keeps its mouth closed, and doesn’t try to scurry away, it shows trust and comfort in your presence. 

They often enjoy the warmth of their human caretakers and may rest on them for a long time. This doesn’t involve cuddling like mammals do, but it shows trust. 

Final Thoughts

In conclusion, a bearded dragon puffs up its beard to display fascinating reptilian behavior. Serving multiple purposes, this behavior can react to feeling threatened, asserting dominance, or even a mating display. By observing your pet’s actions and understanding their motives, you can better care for them and appreciate the complexity of their behaviors.