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Inland Bearded Dragon

(Pogona vitticeps)

Bearded Dragon

The inland bearded dragon has a certain reptilian charm, so much so, in fact, that it is becoming an increasingly popular pet. According to owners, the lizard -- often affectionately called a "beardie" -- has a distinctive personality. Much like a dog or cat, they say, it recognizes its owner. It knows its name. It begs for treats.

Characteristics of the Inland bearded dragon

The inland bearded dragon belongs to the Agamidae family of lizards, which includes more than 350 species that typically have well-developed legs and, oftentimes, fairly long tails. They frequently have odd features such as expandable appendages or dewlaps. Agamidae lizards range across much of Australia, Africa, Asia and, less commonly, southern Europe.

The inland bearded dragon from east central Australia, has the following characteristics:

  • Size and Weight: Typically, the adult inland bearded dragon measures 18 to 22 inches in length, including its tail. It weighs 10 to 18 ounces. The male -- especially its head and beard -- is larger than the female. The female has a somewhat stockier body, but with thinner legs and tail.
  • Head and Body: This reptile has a head shaped much like an arrow point. It has a flared throat pouch with two rows of spiky scales that resemble a beard. Its mouth lining and tongue are pink. Its tongue has an adhesive tip, which helps it pick up and draw food into its mouth. The beardie has a rounded, large-stomached body with one or two rows of flaring scales along the sides. It uses its strong legs to lift its body clear of a hot ground surface.
  • Color and Patterns: The lizard, with variable shades and patterns, usually ranges from gray to reddish brown in coloration, reflecting the color of the soil. It may have light and dark stripes along the sides of its head, and the mature male's "beard" may be dark. The reptile may have splotches across its back, tail and legs, or it may have a jagged, chevron-like pattern along its back, bands along its tail and legs, and lighter colors on its underside. It may lighten or darken its body color somewhat, modifying the amount of sunlight absorbed or reflected to help regulate its body temperature. It will shed several times during its lifetime.
  • Senses: The inland bearded dragon has acute vision, with full color, but poor depth perception. It also has a photosensitive organ, or third "eye," on the top of its head, which can sense light and shadows. It has ears -- holes on the side of its head -- that provide excellent hearing. On the roof of its mouth, it has a Jacobsen's Organ, which provides for keen smell and taste. Lying against the ground, it has a sense of touch that can feel vibrations transmitted through the soil.

Distribution, Habitat and Diet

In its home in Australia, the inland bearded dragon favors "areas from open woodlands to arid scrub and desert region," said Seattle's Woodland Park Zoo. The lizard often perches a few feet above the ground, on bushes, tree branches or rocks, surveying its territory. Opportunistically omnivorous, it feeds on plant and animal materials, including, for instance, fruits, leaves, flowers, insects, small rodents and small lizards--a diversified selection that helps it survive in a frequently biologically impoverished landscape.

Inland bearded dragons survive lean seasons by relying "on nutrients and fat reserves stored in their large abdomens. If required, they will dig into the ground and remain dormant for long periods," until conditions improve. This dormancy, similar to hibernation among mammals, is called "aestivation" if it occurs during the summer and "brumation" if it occurs during the winter.

Life Cycle and Behavior

The inland bearded dragon, which reaches sexual maturity at one to two years of age, mates from September through March, Australia's months of spring and summer. During courtship, the male nods his head up and down vigorously, often expanding his beard and darkening it to near black. The female, if she is receptive, nods her head up and down more slowly, signaling her willingness. Preparing for copulation, the male may pursue the female aggressively, almost as if attacking her. During copulation, he may clinch her tightly with his teeth and forelegs.

After mating, the female can store the sperm, using it to lay several clutches of fertile eggs. In preparing a nest, the female may stop eating while she excavates a shallow hole in sandy soil, where she will lay perhaps two dozen oblong eggs. She then quits the nest, leaving the eggs to hatch on their own roughly two months later. A new hatchling measures about four inches in length. It weighs less than an ounce. It grows rapidly, however, reaching full adult size within a year, according to the Woodland Park Zoo. It may survive several years in the wild and several years longer in captivity.

The inland bearded dragon communicates, not only by bobbing its head, but also, for instance, by waving its forelegs, changing its color and inflating its beard. It may vocalize with a soft hiss, when threatened.

Young males and the females often raise a foreleg and wave, indicating subservience to a larger, dominant inland bearded dragon or perhaps signaling recognition of another of the species. The female may wave to a potential mate during the mating season to signal her availability.

Threatened by an aggressive male or by a potential predator, the inland bearded dragon summons a host of responses. It may bob its head vigorously, flatten its body, change its color, flare its throat and beard, open its pink mouth, and hiss.

If it comes to combat, said the Woodland Park Zoo, "two inland bearded dragons will circle one another, mouths open, hissing and trying to bite the other's tail..."

In the face of a possible predatory attack, said Loyal D. Rue, By the Grace of Guile: The Role of Deception in Natural History and Human Affairs, the bearded lizard changes its color from "olive brown to bright yellow-orange..." It puffs up its head to "double its normal size." Of course, "Threatening displays of this sort are mere bluff, but they very often defeat the designs of predators by making them think twice about attacking."

The Inland bearded dragon as a Pet

"Inland bearded dragons," said the Long Island Herpetological Society, "have a mellow disposition and seem to enjoy or at least tolerate interacting with humans." If a beardie is to prosper, however, it will require knowledgeable care.

It will require, for instance, ample cage space, variable lighting, controllable temperatures, a "hide area" and a suitable substrate (for instance, sterilized sand or alfalfa pellets). It will need a controlled diet, which should consist of about 85 percent greens and 15 percent protein, said the society. It will also need calcium and vitamin supplements. It will likely need to be watered by a mist rather than by a water bowl. Its cage should be cleaned daily to minimize the chances for disease or parasites. Hatchlings and small juveniles require a somewhat different regime. Its care becomes an ongoing learning experience.

Perils

Thanks largely to the Australian government's prohibition of exports of the nation's wildlife, the inland bearded dragon population holds no place on the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources' list of threatened or endangered species. Today's pet beardies descended from a relatively small number smuggled out of Australia in the 1970s. The pets may be threatened by an infectious virus called Agamid adenovirus.

Interesting Facts

  • The beardie can lock its legs so that it can sleep while standing up.
  • It often loses front teeth when grasping and tearing prey, but the teeth grow back quickly.
  • If distressed or aggressive, the inland bearded dragon can quickly change its normally soft and rubbery scales into prickly spines.
  • Inland bearded dragons establish a social hierarchy, with the dominant male assuming a premier basking spot as if it were a throne.

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Interesting Facts about Bearded Dragons
  • The beardie can lock its legs so that it can sleep while standing up.
  • It often loses front teeth when grasping and tearing prey, but the teeth grow back quickly.
  • If distressed or aggressive, the inland bearded dragon can quickly change its normally soft and rubbery scales into prickly spines.
  • Inland bearded dragons establish a social hierarchy, with the dominant male assuming a premier basking spot as if it were a throne.


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