Pogona vitticeps, commonly known as inland or central bearded dragon, is one of the eight bearded dragon species in the genus Pogona and family Agamidae. Initially, this agamid lizard was in the genus Amphibolurus with a species name of Amphibolurus vitticeps. However, later, it was reclassified to genus Pogona.
All the members of the genus Pogona get their name ‘bearded dragons’ because they have a spined glutaral pouch beneath their chin, throat, or neck area that darkens when inflated, making it appear like a beard. This behavior is commonly known as ‘beard display.’
- Size: A fully-grown bearded dragon measures about 40-61 cm (16-24 inches) from snout to tail and weighs about 350 to 600 grams.
- Lifespan: Their average lifespan under captivity is 10-12 years, with some living longer.
- Temperament: Easy-going, docile, and mellow. Young ones may be skittish, particularly babies and juveniles.
- Habitat: Semi-arid and arid areas of central Australia
- Similar species: Rankin’s dragon.
What do bearded dragons look like?
The inland bearded dragons have a broad triangular head, flat wedged bodies, and long, robust tail, almost half their total length. Their legs are stout and quite sturdy, i.e., they can lift the animal’s body off the ground.
If you look at the back of their heads, neck sides, and glutaral pouch, they have spines. Similarly, they have a row of spines on the sides of their bodies running from their front legs towards their tails.
While in their natural habitats, you will find them in a variety of colors, including brown, red, reddish-brown, yellow, and orange, etc., and the specific color has some resemblance to their habitat’s soil.
However, selective breeding has led to the emergence of bearded dragon morphs such as Trans, Hypos, Silkbacks, Leatherbacks, German giants, tigers, citrus, reds, paradox, zeros, witblits, and so on.
How big can a bearded dragon get – size
The Pogona vitticeps is among the largest of the eight members of the genus Pogona. A fully-grown bearded dragon measures up to 24 inches (61cm) in size from tail to snout. However, their typical size is 16-22 inches, and males tend to be larger than females.
The eastern bearded dragon or Pogona Barbata is almost the same size as the central bearded dragon, with a few exceptions that grow up to 29 inches (75 cm).
However, if you go for bearded dragon morphs, the German giants can grow up to 30″ in size and weigh up to 1000g since their selective breeding uses larger beardies.
Where do they live in the wild – natural habitat
All bearded dragon species are native to various parts of Australia with the Pogona vitticeps native Central Australia, where they live in varying semiarid and arid habitats, including the rocky deserts as well as in dry and semiarid woodlands.
As expert climbers, you will find them on short tree branches, dead grass hammocks, fallen trees, outcrop rocks, fence posts, and so on basking during mornings and late afternoons.
When it is hot, they move to sheltered places or burrow into the ground to avoid the scorching sun and heat.
What do they eat in the wild?
While young, they tend to be insectivorous. Nevertheless, as beardies grow, they become omnivores. Their typical foods include small invertebrates, especially insects, beetles, snails, katydids, and slugs, as well as green plants, flowers, vegetables, and fruits.
Occasionally, they may eat bird hatchlings, smaller lizards or reptiles, young mice, or dead animals.
Finally, to stay hydrated, they lick mist or dew. Also, these reptiles drink rainwater or any standing water available.
How long do they live?
When living in captivity, i.e., as pet bearded dragons, their average life expectancy 10-12 years or up to 14 years, especially if there is proper husbandry or care. To live longer, they need the right diet, ideal temperatures, correct UV light exposure, supplements like calcium and vitamin D3, etcetera.
Looking at record holder, the world’s oldest bearded dragon was Sebastian in the UK, who lived for 18 years, 237 days.
However, while in the wild, their lifespan is much shorter due to predation, bad weather, inadequate food, amongst other factors. Their common predators include birds, dingoes, snakes, feral cats, goannas, and foxes.
Gender – male and female beardies
These reptiles are not so dimorphic, making it hard to distinguish males and females. However, males have hemipenes bumps and larger femoral pores. Still, besides being more prominent, their cloacal opening and tail base is wider when compared to females.
Finally, another distinction that will not alone confirm their gender is that males have larger heads and darker beards. If you are unable to tell their gender, ask your vet or breeder will help you determine their sex.
Behavior and more
While they are solitary, these lizards are territorial, and they establish social hierarchies in cases where they share some common resources such as basking or foraging areas.
Typical bearded dragon behavior includes head bobbing, arm-waving, beard display, gaping, stacking (lying on top of each other), and bowing. Also, they may curl their tail vertically or twitch it, flatten their body, bulge their eyes, yawn, change color, and so on.
Although they are not vocal, they may hiss when in grave danger, especially from their predators.
Finally, besides these behaviors, they include basking, digging, and climbing, while some things like surfing is a behavioral problem.
Bearded dragons change color as a way of communicating with other lizards, to absorb more or less heat or camouflage to their environment.
For instance, darkness and light make their color to vary. When exposed to light, these animal’s dorsal skin color slightly darkens while if put on the dark, it will be lighter. Also, when under prolonged stress, these reptiles develop stress marks on their bellies.
During winter, when temperatures go low, and food becomes scarce, bearded dragons brumate, i.e., these animals go into an inactivity state for several weeks to months. During brumation, they don’t eat. However, they will drink water sporadically.
Like other reptiles, these lizards shed off their skin once a new one has grown beneath the old one. Shedding gives them a chance to grow since their skin is inelastic. However, unlike snakes, it doesn’t come out as a single piece but instead in smaller portions.
Mating and breeding
The inland beardie attains sexual maturity at the age of between 1 and 2 years, and it is influenced mainly by how quickly they grow. Once they mature sexually, they can begin mating.
Mating occurs immediately after brumation or after winter. It begins with a courtship ritual where males will stomp their feet, wave their arms, and or bob their heads while in front of a female.
If the female concedes, copulation occurs for a short while, i.e., for less than a minute. After 2 to 3 weeks, females will lay a clutch of 15-30 soft-shelled eggs, up to two times from one copulation since they store sperms in their oviductal crypts.
When gravid females about to lay eggs, they will dig a hole, lay eggs inside it, bury it, and bury their eggs and leave them alone unattended to hatch. Depending on humidity, temperature, and other factors, these eggs will hatch after 50-80 days.
Finally, the incubation temperature can alter the gender of the hatchlings irrespective of their chromosomal composition with higher temperatures favoring females and vice versa.
When buying a bearded dragon, always check for congenital disabilities that occur as the embryo is developing. Chemical exposure, genetic, environmental factors as well as chromosomal disorders are responsible for these defects that include:
1. Two-headed bearded dragons
Also known as bicephalism, this condition occurs when these lizard’s hatchlings have two heads, i.e., they have two heads but one body.
In the case of anasarca, this reptile will swell while it is in its egg for an unknown reason. Such eggs will appear as if they are sweating.
3. Schistosoma reflexa
Schistosoma reflexa occurs when these animals have some organs developing outside their bodies.
4. Limb and spinal defects
They occur during the developmental stage of the affected area, including toes, spine, legs, or tail due to trauma, wrong temperatures, or nutritional deficiencies.
5. Small or no eyes
Also known as microphthalmia or anophthalmia, it occurs when one or both eyes are insignificant or missing. Common causes include environmental factors or trauma as the eye was developing.
6. Both reproductive organs
If your beardie has both sex organs, it is hermaphroditic, and most affected ones end up being infertile.
Pet bearded dragons – living in captivity
The central bearded dragon is the most kept followed by the Pogona henrylawsoni or Rankin’s dragon, and Pogona minor minor or western bearded dragon.
These pets are laidback, docile, hardy, and easy to care for reptiles, making them one the most popular reptile pet. Whether you love them for their even temper, tolerance to human handling, or their fascinating behaviors, these pets are worthwhile having.
What does it take to have these pets?
- Buying a pet bearded dragon: If you are considering having one, you deserve to know that they make excellent pets, including for beginners and kids. Usually, they are available in pet stores, online morph markets, breeders, Petco, PetSmart, and so on. Finally, their prices vary with fancy beardies going for higher rates.
- Supplies and setup: They require correct tank size, substrate, UV light bulbs, heat lamps, thermometers, hygrometers, a thermostat. Besides, get furniture and décor like hideouts, basking platforms, hammocks as well as water bowls, live and artificial plants, terrarium screen, climbing logs or branches, toys, among other enrichments.
- Diet and feeding them: Babies, juveniles, and adults require a slightly different diet made up of gut loaded feeder insects like crickets, locusts, Dubia roaches, silkworms, mealworms, etc., veggies, safe plants and flowers, and fruit treats. You can also buy commercial diets.
- Supplements: Dust their food with calcium, vitamin D3, and other multivitamins essential for perfect health. Ensure you know how to dust their food and the right dusting schedule.
- Caring for your bearded dragons: Besides food and proper habitat setup, they maintenance care (cleaning, nail clipping, teeth cleaning), bathing, and correct handling or petting. Also, during brumation and shedding, ensure you properly care for them and minimize stress.
- Health and illness: While they are hardy, they may suffer from impaction, constipation, mouth rot, tail rot, respiratory infections, metabolic bone diseases, parasites, yellow fungus, among other illnesses. Always look at any signs or symptoms that they are not well, such as not eating, sleeping too much, being lethargic, discharges, abnormal movements, vomiting, diarrhea, and so on.
To understand these lizards, better, here are a few FAQs.
1. Are their bites venomous?
Except for the Eastern bearded dragon that has two primitive venom glands, the rest of the species, including Pogona vitticeps, have only one. When they bite, they release a mild venom that can kill small insects but not humans.
While they don’t bite humans, if it occurs accidentally, such as when you are handing them, or if they scratch you, disinfect and clean the area since they do carry parasites and harmful germs including bacteria like salmonella.
Also, ensure you wash your hands with a hand sanitizer or soapy water before and after touching this pet or their habitat.
2. Are their spines sharp?
No. Although these spiny scales may appear dangerous like those of a porcupine, they are not sharp and will not harm you even when they flare their chin.
3. Can you have them with other pets?
Depending on their nature and the nature of other pets, you can keep them and have dogs, cats, and so on. However, never leave them unsupervised even after they have bonded well.
4. Why do they need UVA and UVB light?
UVA helps in stimulating activities like feeding and breeding as well as in boosting their overall health, i.e., UVA helps regulate their daily and seasonal activity.
On the other hand, UVB helps their skin in synthesis vitamin D3 needed for calcium absorption.
Fun or fascinating facts
- They are solitary animals that prefer or love being left alone except during mating time. Don’t worry about them being lonely. Also, avoid housing them together as they will begin competing for various resources with the dominant once taking advantage.
- While they don’t make any other vocalizations, they do hiss when threatened by a predator or startled.
- They are good runners. These lizards can run at speeds of 14.5km/h while pursuing their prey (food), escaping from predators, and so on. When running fast, they rise and run in the same way bipeds do since they cannot keep on their four as their center of gravity shifts towards their rear.
- Since they live in deserts and semi-arid environments, they don’t urinate as we do. Instead, they excrete dry urine to minimize water loss. Usually, the chalky stuff that comes out with poop is urine.
- They have funny sleeping postures. Sometimes, they can sleep in a vertical orientation, i.e., standing on their hind legs with their knees locked.
- When they hatch, a bearded dragon hatchling weighs about 2 grams and measures about 4 cm.
- They don’t like surprises, especially if you approach or try to pick from above or if they have not seen you coming.
- They have excellent sight and can see objects that are far away so well as well as more colors than human beings. Furthermore, they can see some light rays beyond human visual limits.
- Their front teeth regrow if the fall, but their side teeth don’t grow back should they fall. Similarly, their tails don’t grow back if nipped, and they don’t drop their tails like lizards when attacked by predators.
- They change their color as a means of communication, when under darkness or light, as well as when basking (want to absorb more or less heat).
- Their sturdy spines around their head, chin, and neck work as a protective armor when they are under attack, a reason why they puff them.
- While in the wild, their colors have a striking resemblance from the soil where they live. However, this is not the same as those bred selectively, i.e., the morphs.
- They drink rainwater bowing or sloping their bodies forward to allow and allowing water trapped in their bumps and spines to run down to their snout.
- Their smelling and tasking organs are on the roof of their mouth. They pick scents and test by licking things or sticking their tongue out.
- They have a parietal or third eye on the top part of their head. While it doesn’t process images, it does have light and dark sensing cells that help it know the time or detect an aerially approaching predator.