Is My Bearded Dragon Brumating, Dead, Sick, or Alive?

As temperatures begin to fall, days become shorter, ectotherms like bearded dragon find it impossible to cope up with these changes, and as a part of their evolutionary adjustment, they begin to brumate. What is brumation?

Dormancy meaning and types

Dormancy is the duration of time during which an organism’s physical functions, growth, or development temporarily slows down or stops. It is often associated with environmental change, and it helps these organisms save energy since their metabolism will be minimal.

Bearded dragon brumation
Bearded dragon brumation

There is predictive and consequential dormancy with the predictive one happening before adverse conditions occur, and the latter after.

Hibernation, brumation, aestivation, and diapause are the comm types of dormancy that various living organisms undergo. What does each mean?

1. Hibernation

During hibernation, some endotherm (those that maintain desired body temperature) undergo metabolic depression and inactivity where affected animals vary between letting the environment regulate their temperature and self-regulating it.

Affected ectotherms will have to reduce heartbeat rates, body temperature, and metabolic rate, especially during winter.

Common animals that hibernate include the European hedgehogs, rodents, ground squirrels, monotremes, insectivorous, marsupial black and white-tailed prairie dog, etcetera.

2. Aestivation – when it is hot and dry

Aestivation is similar to hibernation but occurs during summer. Affected animals go to a state of slow metabolic rates and become inactive when it is warm and dry.

It commonly gardens snail, worm, and other invertebrates as well as the desert tortoise, lungfish, crocodile, and salamanders.

3. Diapause

Diapause is a predictive dormancy type that occurs when organisms delay development due to normal adverse environmental conditions that recur regularly.

Animals that undergo these types of dormancy include gastropods lie land snails,  arthropods like insects, some reptiles, and amphibians like North America tortoise, crocodiles, salamanders, and so on.

For instance, insects egg or pupa may stop development during unfavorable seasons such as autumn or spring. Some mammals also undergo embryonic diapause where embryo attachment to their uterine delays to ensure their offspring are born during favorable climatic conditions such as spring.

4. Brumation

Brumation is a  kind of dormancy noted in ectotherms (animals that regulate their temperature depending on ambient temperature) that occurs during cold seasons.

In most reptiles that experience it, it begins in late autumn and goes through winter, but the specific time is gender-specific, and it can last for 1-8 months with the exact time depending on the reptile’s species, health, and age.

During this dormancy, reptiles, especially lizards, can go for several weeks or months sleeping without food but will sporadically wake up to drink water before going back to sleep again. Therefore, it is not a total sleep as hibernation.

Finally, reptiles below a year will not brumate. Instead, they will slow down and eat less.

Do bearded dragons hibernate or brumate?

From the above explanation of the different forms of dormancy, you should be able to know if bearded dragons being ectotherms undergo hibernation or brumation. Of course, they brumate and not hibernate.

Beardies tolerate a small temperature range. Therefore, when the daytime temperature begins to fall to below 75–80 °F and for day duration of 8 to 10 hours while night temperature dips below 60–70 °F, they will begin slowing down.

As this happens, they will show some signs which will give you a hint on setting brumation temperature to support it.

Brumation is an innate survival tactic since drastic changes in temperature, as one noted in winter, makes it hard for them live as usual. They cannot get food, digest it, keep themselves at the preferred temperature, etcetera. Therefore, they are doing all these to conserve energy!

Do pet beardies brumate?

While some bearded dragons may not brumate while in captivity because most owners will maintain optimum heating (temperature) conditions as well as food, UV light, and so on, it is an excellent idea to let this pet undergo this dormancy as it is part of their inherent, and natural behaviors.

Let them brumate like their wild counterparts, i.e., try to let them experience what they would have if they were in the wild. Furthermore, it might occur, or you can induce it, especially if you want to reset their biological clock to breeding. Bearded dragons breed immediately after brumating.

On the other hand, when temperatures go too high, they will burrow underground or die in extraordinarily high heat conditions but not aestivate.

At what age and do baby or juvenile dragons brumate?

In most cases, baby and juvenile beardies don’t. Most begin brumating when they are at least a year or more. However, they may slow down, eat less, and sleep more during cold environments.

Furthermore, since it is a survival instinct, it may occur even before they are one year old.

Triggers or causes

Although it is a natural process that occurs to these agamid lizards, several factors may trigger it that includes.

  • Temperature drop
  • Shorter day noted in winter
  • Humidity changes
  • Food scarcity and water

When do they brumate? Summer or winter season?

While living in captivity, they may brumate anytime. However, while in the wild in Australia, they brumate during winter, i.e., from June to August in the southern hemisphere.

However, in the northern hemisphere, including Europe and America, it happens from November to February.

How long does bearded dragon brumation last  – time

Like other reptiles that brumate, it can go for several weeks. The exact time will depend on several factors such as age, gender, natural conditions, origin (some are hard-coded to a specific time).

Typical duration ranges from a few weeks to as many as four months, i.e., from late autumn to early spring. However, there is no way to predict the exact time with certainty.

However, under captivity, if the brumate, the duration will significantly vary from a few days to months and will depend on an individual beardie

Brumation signs and behaviors

How will you know that your bearded dragon is brumating? It is simple. Look at some of the common symptoms.

However, since each of these lizards undergoes this dormancy in a slightly different way, they may show all or a combination of the signs we are going to mention.

Some of the commonly noted telltale signs that your beardie is about to brumate may include the following:

  • Decreased inactivity or torpor characterized by them looking lazy than usual and lethargic.
  • Low or reduced appetite
  • Bearded dragon sleeping a lot, i.e., more than usual, and go to bed earlier. Some may sleep for several weeks, while others will nap now and then.
  • They will always be hiding in their hideouts or sheltered place. Some may burrow into the substrate.
  • Unwillingness to go to their basking platforms or areas.
  • Not eating or eating so little
  • Not defecating

Most first-time owners might find these symptoms quite alarming. However, there is no need for alarm, as they are characteristic of brumation.

However, as you can see, these signs closely resemble signs or symptoms they show during illness, stress, injury, or parasite infestation. If you are uncertain, it is good to get advice from your veterinarian.

Encouraging brumation – tips

If you notice the above symptoms begin by having a parasite or fecal test to rule out the fact that the various symptoms are due to other illnesses. Also, a health check is critical.

If these are not signs of disease or conditions, you can encourage your bearded dragon to brumate if this is what you want, especially if you want them to breed. Some of the ways include:

  • Provide a hiding place such as a cave or rock if they already don’t have it.
  • Also, you can give them a safe substrate to burrow. A damp substrate is ok. However, avoid a wet one as it will cause respiratory health problems. Similarly, a dry one may cause dehydration.
  • Gradually decrease the hours when your UV lighting and basking lamps are on from the 12-14 hours to 8-10 photoperiod  Reduce it by 30 minutes after each weak until you achieve the 8-10 hours.
  • Finally, turn off the heat source, lighting, including UV light once they begin brumating as they don’t need them.

Do they need food or water?

Reduce the amount of food you give gradually with no food offered on the last one to two weeks week before you completely turn off the heat and lighting source. Do this to provide them with a chance to digest and clear their bowels.

Once you have switched off the heat and UV light source, you shouldn’t provide them with any food. Without heat, they will not be able to digest it. You don’t want food to be in their stomach during the entire brumation period as may rot in their stomach and potentially cause illnesses. A stomach massage just before brumation may help expel the last poop.

However, ensure they have safe drinking water to keep them hydrated since they will sporadically drink it. Therefore, always ensure these pets have clean, fresh drinking water in their water bowl. Otherwise, they may hydrate.

Since this is a natural process, you shouldn’t disrupt them, such as force them to eat or drink water.

Finally, minimize contact as this may disrupt them unless it is vital. Let these pets brumate.

Will they lose weight?

Unless they were unwell, they are unlikely any. Maybe a few grams at most. Measure their initial weight and be weighing them after every fortnight help determine if they are losing weight drastically or not. In the case of a small weight loss, it is due to dehydration, and you shouldn’t worry.

Does brumation have benefits?

Yes. It does. Besides being a natural behavior, it helps in resetting these pet’s biological breeding clock. As these lizards sleep, the cooler temperature will favor sperm in males. Once it gets warms again, females will begin ovulating.

A few weeks after waking up from brumation, males will start looking for a mating partner, and copulation will occur.

Are baths ok?

Yes. Baths will help in boosting hydration and will not disrupt this pet so much. During the bathing, they will still be asleep, and they may drink some water with their mouth even while still in their sleep state. Use lukewarm water and soak them for 10-15 minutes, twice a week.

However, ensure you do it gently so as not to disrupt them from brumation as it is unhealthy. If your beardies have and drink from their water bowl, they don’t need baths.

Waking them up

In most instances, once brumation is over, they will wake up and start walking around in their enclosures. Alternatively, you can simulate waking up by gradually restoring their optimal terrarium temperature, UV light, and food.

You can bathe them to boost further hydration. However, before your beardies return to their usual schedule, give them a few more days to adjust well before you can stabilize their ordinary day and night cycle.

Feeding after waking up

Besides keeping them well hydrated, provide adequate food including their favorite live feeder insects such as roaches, crickets, silkworms, mealworms, etcetera as well as lots of leafy veggies, fruit treats or any other safe plants and flowers including herbs.

After a few days, they will return to their usual self. Follow their routine of feeding the bearded dragon you usually do without forgetting to dust their foods with calcium, vitamin D3, and multivitamins.

Finally, within a few weeks, they will start displaying most of their other natural behaviors and will be as active as they were before brumation.

When to worry

If brumation happens when conditions are optimum such as in summer or to bearded dragon below a year, it may be a sign of other problems. For instance, it could be they have compromised immunity, or they are ill-health. Note that during brumation, weak or sick bearded dragons may die.

Furthermore, setting wrong terrarium temperature, malnutrition including lack of vitamins and minerals, including calcium, infections, poor UV light, are possible causes.

Dead, alive, or brumating?

Brumation can be quite perplexing as you may not know if your bearded dragon is sick, dead, or alive and well. As seen earlier, health status is the first step to ensuring your lizard is ok.

Secondly, look at various signs of a sick bearded dragon, including diarrhea, a dull coat that doesn’t shed, jerky movements, skin rotting, labored breathing, sunken eyes, wrinkling skin, cloudy eyes, loss of appetite, among others depending on the underlying cause. They will guide you on knowing if it is sickness or normal brumation.

Finally, if they are breathing, then they are not dead. A dead, bearded dragon will not be breathing, will be not responsive, their body will be stiff (rigorous Mortis occurs), pupil dilated, and they will have a bad smell after some days. You should not suspect death if you set conditions for brumation unless you did it mistakably.

FAQs and tips

Besides the above, let us look at some of the common FAQs that people have as well as tips to ensure brumation occurs smoothly.

Do all beardies brumate?

No. If kept under optimum conditions, some bearded dragons will not brumate at all. However, if you want them to breed, try to induce it.

Can brumation last for a few days?

If it happens, your beardie may probably the sick or having other health issues. However, if it lasts for a few weeks, it is perfectly normal.

Can you prevent brumation

Yes. By ensuring optimum temperature, UV light, and correct feeding, some beardies will not go to this kind of dormancy. However, some will still slow down even if everything is at its perfect.

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