Elementary school is an important part of our lives. During those crucial years, our teachers have the unenviable task of having to teach us a voluminous amount of information necessary for us to progress through the prolific years of our education.
We were introduced to the wonderful world of science and its various branches like physics, botany, and biology. We spend our time studying essential scientific concepts like the law of gravity, Einstein’s theory of relativity, the amazing process of plant photosynthesis, and bearded dragon brumation.
“Who’s getting cremated? Did I read that, right?”
Nope. I did put brumation. You definitely read that right.
Regardless, you’re most likely here because you just happen to have gotten yourself into the business of taking care of your very own bearded dragon. As you left a happy customer from the local pet store, the store clerk reminds you to “take care of it when it goes into brumation.” You look back with a confident smile and retort “I sure will” through gritted teeth as your mind wonders “What the hell is brumation?”
Unless you’ve been taking care of reptiles for the past several years, you’re probably wondering whatever in the world is that. Whether you were looking for a definition or trying to find out what exactly you’ve gotten yourself into with the brand new bearded dragon you bought, we’ve got you covered.
In this article, we’ll be breaking down what exactly bearded dragon brumation is, what are its causes and telltale signs as well as important tips and tricks to care for your bangin’ new bearded dragon when they do decide to brumate.
Bearded Dragon Overview
Bearded Dragons are reptiles that belong to the Pogona genus and there are eight known species of this lizard. They are endemic to Australia, particularly in shrublands or woodlands.
These animals have characteristic triangular heads with relatively flat bodies littered with spiny scales. But what distinguishes these animals are the beard-like spines located under its throat. Hence the “bearded” moniker .
If you love looking at your pets, the bearded dragon is a visual treat. With an abundance of spines and with variable ability to change colors, you’ll be showing off this animal to your friends in no time. There are even different morphs with different colors available in the market for the initiated pet enthusiast.
They are extremely easy to handle making them great for beginners. While holding them, these reptiles just stay perfectly still and chill on your hand or if you place them on a flat surface. They’re also very hardy reptiles and can sustain some moderate amount of rough-handling from pet owners.
They are also relatively better priced compared to other reptiles on the market. A young breaded dragon will cost you anywhere between $30 to $60 while an older more mature dragon will cost somewhere along with the $100 price tag.
For all its great qualities, the bearded dragon is largely considered as one of the best reptiles for a new exotic pet keeper. Whether they’re one year old or several years old, a bearded dragon will remain as spectacular pets making you the envy of your friends.
Natural Bearded Dragon Behavior
Bearded dragons are semi-arboreal species of animals. In the wild, they spend a significant amount of their time on tree branches, bushes, or around human settlements.
Oftentimes, you may find a bearded dragon basking on top of a well-placed rock early or late in the day under the warm sun.
Basking spots are highly sought-after by bearded dragons and its commonplace to find a pair of beardies fighting to claim a coveted spot. They bob their heads regularly as an act of dominance to warn off other competing beardies. They like to inflate their throat, open their mouths, and turn jet black in color in order to intimidate other bearded dragons.
But for all its aggression against fellow bearded dragons, the opposite can be said about its relationship with humans. With its relative ease of care and winning personalities, it’s easy to see why bearded dragons have found their way into the homes of exotic pet owners and many stores around the country.
Downsides to the Bearded Dragon
Reptiles are not conventional domesticated pets by any standard. Because of their natural habitats in the wild, it takes a level of commitment from the pet owner to replicate these conditions in the pet’s home enclosure. This ensures the bearded dragon will grow healthy and free from any health problems.
One of the downsides to rearing bearded dragons is their tendency to be picky eaters. They are omnivores and they should eat food according to their dietary preferences. For that reason, ensuring a good variety of food may be a concern for some pet owners.
Apart from food, lighting is also an important concern. Because they’re cold-blooded, they need to thermoregulate. You will be depending on artificial lighting and expensive UVB equipment to create a good enough temperature gradient in the tank.
It’s important to talk about what they eat and what lighting they require because these all play into an important concern during bearded dragon care. To this day, even some pet expert or vet experts struggle with this problem. And that’s brumation.
What exactly is brumation and how does it work for such a wonderful pet as the bearded dragon?
Reptiles and Brumation: An evolutionary trait
Similar to a hibernating bear, reptiles such as the bearded dragon also undergo a similar process called brumation. In the brumation state, reptiles such as bearded dragons, turtles, tortoises, snakes, or other lizards go into a state of hibernation that lasts for several weeks to months.
Cold-blooded reptiles adjust their temperature based on their surroundings and brumation is an adaptive evolutionary trait that has helped them survive during extreme weather conditions. In particular, bearded dragons go into brumation during cold or winter seasons.
In the wild, a bearded dragon may prepare for the brumation process when it detects that temperatures start to drop and food start to become scarce. Behavioral instincts will usually take over during this time as bearded dragons struggle to keep warm during cold weather. These instincts serve the bearded dragon in ensuring its survival throughout.
During brumation, a bearded dragon will have a significantly slower metabolic rate. Meaning, the reptile will try to conserve its energy stores in preparation for a long period of time. Overall, the bearded dragon will present with less energy and less appetite during this period.
Brumation, therefore, serves as an amazing example of the evolutionary development of bearded dragons. They are able to sustain their lives during prolonged periods of time without food. This is a testament to the hardiness of reptiles across thousands of years of evolutionary development.
What causes Brumation in bearded dragons?
Brumation is a natural process in the life cycle of bearded dragons. As such, there are no specific causes to forcibly induce a beardie to brumate.
Regardless of whether bearded dragons are in the wild or in captivity, sometimes along the way, a bearded dragon will have to undergo a brumation period. It’s a natural process as natural as the changing seasons, which is ultimately the widely known cause for brumation in reptiles.
Having said that, you can somewhat predict when the brumation could happen. Cold weather widely believed to be the main reason for dragon brumation behavior. Even then, it’s extremely difficult to exactly pinpoint when and how long the brumation can happen.
For those living in the northern hemisphere, bearded dragon brumation can happen during late autumn when cold temperatures start to set in. In the summer, bearded dragons may have difficulty responding to hot weather of 75-80 Fahrenheit. Those who live in the southern hemisphere may see their pet brumate starting March or April up until August or September. The duration is widely variable, with some reportedly recovering from their brumation slump during the spring as temperatures start to rise.
The duration of the brumation period is highly variable as well. Some brumation lasts for a few weeks while others last for several months. Though don’t be surprised if your bearded dragon will brumate for obscenely long periods. Some report that a bearded dragon can go into brumation for as long as 6 months.
There’s a lot of variables that go into bearded dragons brumation behaviors, especially those kept in captivity. A lot of factors come into play such as age, gender, and natural conditions within the home. This is the reason why bearded dragons brumate differently compared to their counterparts in the wild of the outback.
A special mention must be made for young bearded dragons. A young bearded dragon is not believed to go into brumation until it is at least 10 to 12 months old. As a matter of fact, brumation is a young bearded dragon that is extremely rare. That is not to say it can’t happen because it is an important concern for dragon owners to address young dragons that go into brumation due to the associated health and survival risks.
What are the signs of brumation in a bearded dragon?
A bearded dragon will show many signs that it is entering or is in a state of brumation. As a well-meaning bearded dragon enthusiast, you should dedicate sufficient time and energies to understanding this important process in order to adequately take care of your lovely pet.
Here are the important signs you need to watch out for to know if you’re dragon is in a brumation process.
- Sleeping for longer periods of time. You will notice a bearded dragon engage less in its lively and dominant behavior during the brumation period. They will be so good at this that they will frequently be found in a state of deep sleep. This is due in large part to the decreased metabolism rate in an effort to conserve energy. So, don’t be alarmed and think that your bearded dragon is ill if they sleep for long periods of time or are difficult to wake up. It’s part of the normal process.
- Avoiding areas with uncomfortable temperatures. Depending on the season or temperature, a bearded dragon may be inclined to avoid particularly cold or hot areas in its enclosure as part of its brumation process. You will start to notice a bearded dragon spend less time in the basking area to retreat in the cooler areas of the enclosure. You may even find them burrowing and burying their bodies in order to thermoregulated in response to the temperatures.
- Loss of appetite. In response to its decreased metabolic rate, a bearded dragon may also display a decreased appetite for food. This is completely normal during a brumation period and should not be cause for alarm. This hibernation state is optimized in the way that bearded dragons are able to efficiently make use of their natural energy stores for prolong periods of time. Meaning, they will not have need for food at this time. Still, it’s best to make food and water available in case they decide to eat.
- Aversion to being handled. A bearded dragon is normally carefree and chill, which is what makes them great pets. But, during brumation that may not take kindly to handling as it keeps them from making the most of their rest and sleep periods. If you notice how they cling to the enclosure as you attempt to take them from a nap or rest, it may actually be in a brumation state.
- Sluggish or slow movement. A bearded dragon can be a quick animal, as you will see during aggressive moments with other bearded dragons or when it is actively hunting for food. In brumation, however, it is not uncommon to see them in a relative state of sluggishness or lethargy. This all plays into the decrease metabolic rate in an effort to conserve energy. Even the allure of food will not get them out of this slump.
What do I do when my bearded dragon is in Brumation?
Knowing the process and signs of brumation, what does that mean for you the pet owner? Bearded dragon brumation can be an alarming sight to see for the uninitiated. If you’ve not kept yourself abreast of how this process works your bearded dragon, you’re setting yourself up for failure as a beardie pet owner.
Adequate knowledge on bearded dragon brumation is absolutely essential and the key to rearing a healthy bearded dragon. Understanding the different nuances of this behavior can formidably set you up to address the potential problems this state of hibernation will entail for your endearing bearded dragon. Screw this up and you’re more likely to bring him to the vet more often than you’d like.
Make sure you know what you’re doing. Here are a few tips to help you get started on caring for your bearded dragon.
- Observe the physical condition. Before you actively do anything, train your investigative eyes, and learn the art of passive observation of your bearded dragon. A bearded dragon will not normally lose significant weight during brumation especially when it has been provided adequate food leading up to this time point. However, in cases where you observe significant fat loss and pathologic behavior, it’s urgent you bring your pet to the nearest vet to get it checked.
- Leave the bearded dragon and let it rest. Let nature take it’s course as bearded dragons are perfectly fine being left to their brumation devices. It is, after all, a response to the environment in order to ensure their survival. Don’t be too excited and manhandle your pet. Instead, make sure adequate food, lighting, and water are available should it temporarily snap out of its slumber.
- Give them regular baths. Maintaining good hygiene and hydration are essential to keeping the bearded dragon healthy during brumation. As such, you want to give them weekly baths using warm water. This ensures they are kept clean. At the same time, it provides an opportunity for them to hydrate themselves if they decided to drink while bathing. Be careful though as you may inadvertently drown your bearded dragon with lack of supervision. Regularly bathing them also encourages bowel movements to avoid digestive problems.
- Reduce heat and UVB from the enclosure. Brumation is a response to the changes in temperature and you may do well to assist your pet by making the environment more favorable for him. You may want to gradually reduce the heat and lighting over the next few days. Some recommend decreasing the lighting exposure to only 8 hours a day instead of the whole day as a starting adjustment. You also want to make sure your pet has enough hides or areas for it to find a cool and comfortable spot to rest during brumation.
- Do not force-feed during brumation. For a novice owner, brumation may appear rather alarming due to the fact that the bearded dragon is not eating as usual. The important thing to remember is that this is natural and as such, force-feeding them goes against the natural course of the brumate. It may even be cause for indigestion due to the fact that bowel movements are also slowed during brumation.
In such situations, it will always be best to seek out expert opinion. Finding a vet who can help you understand you’re pet’s behavior as equivalent to best practices.
Is he supposed to be doing that? Ask your vet.
Why isn’t he moving? Ask your vet.
Can I hold my bearded dragon during Brumation?
There are many questions that concern a bearded dragon pet owner. Since brumation is a natural process, can I even hold my bearded dragon during this time?
If it hasn’t been obvious yet, the answer is most definitely a yes. In the brumation state, a bearded dragon is so sluggish it’s more likely not to take care of itself and simply keep hiding or sleeping. As such, they can get very unruly or dirty as time goes on.
For that reason, the upkeep of the animal will depend solely on you during this period. You will still need to handle them to make sure they are healthy, clean, and in good condition. One particular example is in giving them warm baths. You will need to handle them in order to transport from the cage onto a water basin for hygienic purposes. Light handling like this is completely fine and will not disrupt their brumation.
However, you need to make sure you are not excessively handling them as this is a sure-fire way to harmfully disrupt their brumation process. Bearded dragons brumate in order to conserve energy and slow down their metabolism in order to survive. Attempting to disrupt these risks exposing your pet to detrimental health concerns that can threaten its life span.
Considerations for Handling: When is it too much okay?
However, there are special instances when attempting to stop the brumation process may actually be more beneficial for your pet. For very young bearded dragons or those with compromised weight status, it’s not encouraging to have dragons brumate. This is due to the fact that they may not be able to sustain a brumation state for a long period of time and survive afterward.
In the instance that you’ll want to stop brumating, increasing handling time is an acceptable course of action. You may also support this with other strategies such as increasing daylight hours. It’s best to aim for around 14-15 hours of basking per day. For best results, take your compromised pet to the vet for sound recommendations from a trained professional.
Is my bearded dragon brumation or dying?
Being well-versed in the life patterns and cycles of the bearded dragon is important to understanding how to respond to their health states. As such, inexperienced pet owners are more likely to make a mistake regarding their beard dragon’s health. One common area for confusion is being able to differentiate between dragon brumation and dying.
New owners tend to misdiagnose with scary assumptions on whether or not a dragon in brumation is actually dying. For the most part, the presentation of a brumate can easily be mistaken for dying if a pet owner is not familiar with the process.
The Dead and the Dying: Is this the end for beardie?
Nevertheless, there are important distinctions to differentiate brumation from dying. For starters, dying or sick bearded dragons are toxic-looking. They usually change their colors, with their spiny beards changing to black. You may also notice that their fat pads have been depleted and they may have an accumulation of mucus in and around their mouths. Other signs include rotting tails and even over scale discoloration. Physical signs of illness such as sunken eyes may be suggestive of an underlying health problem.
If any of these signs are present in your bearded dragon, you may want to take it to your vet right away. The vet is more qualified to make accurate diagnoses regarding your bearded dragon’s health. After having made a sufficient diagnosis, the vet will also be in the best position to treat your pet in a timely and effective manner.
A dead bearded dragon is an equally if not most terrible sight. We cannot ever wish for this to happen to your own pet but making a distinction whether it’s dead or alive is something you should know. Dead dragons will feel cold to touch and their bodies may become stiff from rigor mortis.
Checking if beardie is still alive
But, bearded dragons are deceptively good at playing dead. Luckily, there’s a good technique to differentiate the two. First, try laying your dragon on either side of their bodies and observe for movement. If nothing happens, try putting them supine on their backs to see how they’ll react. Most bearded dragons will find these positions uncomfortable and will try to find a more favorable position to sleep. If you’re not able to find a response from your pet, then it might be dead. You may need to ask for help from your vet to confirm the unpleasant news.
Preparing your Bearded Dragon Brumation
With such a wealth of information available to you, you are now in the best position to make adequate preparations for the next time your pet decides to brumate. The old saying goes, “If fail to plan, you plan to fail”. Take the time plan the upkeep and care for your pet in order to ensure it is healthy and it maximizes its lifespan.
There are several things you can do to optimize the environment, to make food considerations, and to improve your upkeep of the bearded dragon. Listed here are some of the key points you need to consider to prepare for the next brumation session.
- Go easy on the insects. As brumation approaches, you’ll want to make sure your pets eat a light diet of greens and vegetables. Do not feed them or make them eat insects or potentially parasitic food. When brumation hits, their slowed digestive processes may make them vulnerable to harmful insects or parasites left alive in the digestive tract. Simple strategies such as massaging their bellies to promote bowel movement work dividends towards emptying food from the gut.
- Don’t worry, they will eat after. Directly related to the previous point, this is just a reassuring statement not to worry that your pets aren’t eating right now. Once they recover from their brumation slump, they’re get right back into eat their favorite foods within a few days to 2 weeks’ time. If it does not return to its normal eating habits and you notice significant weight loss, you may want to bring him to the local vet.
- Bring him to the vet. Speaking of your vet, he or she plays a key role in the overall health of your bearded dragon. Before the pet starts to brumate, be sure to take them to your local vet for a check-up. It’s important that your pet goes into hibernation free from any health compromise. A vet can also help you determine if your pet is actually fit to brumate. Brumation last several months and undernourished pets may not fare well in these circumstances.
- Place a good hide in their enclosures. Like other reptiles, bearded dragons tend to hide or bury themselves in order to feel safe and secure. A good hide will give them a more peaceful and enjoyable area to rest in. This is more often the case for those who need to brumate. Without a hide, these creatures tend burrow as they do in the wild. Whether they are a year old or older, a good hide is always a good investment for any well-meaning exotic pet owner.
- Ensure adequate hydration. As hydration is an important part of in-brumation care, so too is it important during the time leading up to brumation itself. Acclimate your pet to weekly warm baths to create a sense of regularity for when you do this during the brumation period itself. Soak the dragons for 20 to 30 minutes before putting them back within the enclosure. Be sure to dry them to avoid fungus accumulating on the scales.
- Minimize UV light or daylight. It’s important to prepare your pet’s habitat for the brumation. As it strives to find opportunities for deep sleep, you can ease them into these habits by starting decrease the lighting in their enclosures. Too much lighting may interrupt their deep sleep patterns. Too little may result in the environment being too cold. You can do your pet a favor by gradually decreasing the amount of lighting they have in increments of hours. Decreasing daylight to 8 hours a day may be a good starting point.
Bearded dragons are amazing pets and make for one of the easiest to handle and accessible pets for those looking to start a pet reptile hobby. With their amazing appearance and endearingly mellow demeanor, there’s plenty to love about this pet from the wild outback.
Brumation is the reptile’s equivalent of hibernation in mammals and pet owners need to pay attention to the signs and symptoms of this dormant behavior in the life cycle of a bearded dragon. It’s important to effectively maintain a level of upkeep during this period in order to ensure the safety and health of your wonderful pet. Considerations for food, environment, and hygiene all play a key role in this matter. Know where your local vet is and how to contact him in cases when the brumation. behavior may be doubtful.
Once you’ve got a handle on this unique brumation behavior, that’s one more feather on your reptile-rearing cap. As your pet continuously grows a year old, so too should you continuously use this specialized knowledge to care for your endearing pet.
Your beardie will love you more for it.