Brumation in Bearded Dragons

Understanding the Mystery...

Written by Denise R. Bushnell in June, 2008
Page 2 of 6

Reasons for Brumation continued

As far as how Beardies in captivity brumate, every Beardie is different. Its very rare for a Beardie that is under a year old to brumate, unless they were born extremely early in the year and are rapidly approaching a year old when cold weather sets in, however it is possible.

Once they become adults, however, many of them do brumate, not because they need to, but simply because its become an instinctual behavior that has been bred into them to ensure their survival. Some Beardies will never brumate, during their entire lives, while others will brumate every year, regardless of the weather conditions outside, and no matter how hard you try to keep them from it.

One of the mistakes that many of us make concerning brumation, is that we tend to compare them to mammals, who only hibernate during the winter months, when its cold, food is scarce, and they have nothing to eat. However, Bearded Dragons, as reptiles, are an entirely different species, and they will many times brumate for reasons other than lack of food, or cold temperatures. Most who do brumate will do so during our winter months, but some may also go down during other times of the year, as well.

The fact that some Bearded Dragons will brumate here, in the Western Hemisphere, while in captivity, at the “wrong time of the year” tends to upset most owners, who believe that since it isn’t wintertime, they can’t be brumating, when, in fact, nothing could be further from the truth. The reality of the matter is that there is no “wrong time of the year” for a Bearded Dragon to go into brumation.

To understand the reasoning behind this reality, we need to remember that Bearded Dragons are native to Australia, which is in the Southern Hemisphere, on the other side of the world. Because of its location, Australia’s seasons are a direct opposite of our own.....when it’s Spring and Summer here, it’s Autumn and Winter in Australia. Therefore, some Beardies who have very strong natural instincts for survival, may actually choose to go into brumation during our Spring or Summer, because their “biological clock” is telling them that it’s the right time for them to do that in order to ensure their survival, and it would be......if they were still living in the wilds of Australia!

We’ve domesticated them completely, on this side of the world, over the last 20 years or so, and they obviously have no need to brumate at all, since we see to all their needs, providing them with a steady food supply, and constant temperatures all year round. However they still brumate, and probably will continue to do so for as long as the species exists, since their bodies have evolved that way for hundreds of years in order to ensure their survival. We can’t presume to improve upon what Mother Nature has created, and so their brumation habits will continue, in most cases, regardless of where they live, what time of the year it is, or what their living conditions are.

Another, lesser known reason for brumation, is to allow their bodies to have a “rest period”, so to speak, prior to mating season in the Spring. Many of you may have noticed that when your Beardies awake from brumation, especially the males, you see a lot of head bobbing, displaying, and blackened beards for a few weeks. The reason for this, is that allowing their bodies to rest while they brumate will cause their hormone levels to rise to higher levels than normal. This, in turn, will produce a higher sperm count in the males, which will result in a greater number of successful matings in the Spring. The higher hormone levels apply to the females of the species as well, although we usually see no outward signs of it, other than perhaps they’re being a bit more restless than usual.

So you see, there are quite a few reasons why Bearded Dragons choose to brumate, which are all to their advantage, healthwise, regardless of when they choose to do it. We can’t change it, so we just have to learn to live with it, regardless of their timing. Its just another one of the oddities that make keeping these little creatures so interesting and different to us than any other sort of pet, which, I think, is a large part of their charm.

Also, on a lighter note, it gives them another way to drive us crazy and make us worry, so that they can keep us in line and make us never want to be without them. After all, they say that “absence makes the heart grow fonder”, so they probably all brumate with smiles on their little faces when we can’t see, dreaming about all the havoc they’re causing with our emotions, and thinking about the fuss that all of their owners will make over them when they decide to wake up. The little stinkers are way too smart for their own good!

Signs of Brumation

Generally, the signs of brumation are very easy to recognize, once you know what you’re looking for. Most Bearded Dragons will get a bit cranky just prior to going down for their long sleep, and many may not want you to handle them as you usually do. Most don’t get nasty about it, but they make it known that they really don’t want to be bothered, and would rather be left alone.

They will get increasingly inactive and lethargic, and will refuse to bask under their lights, even when you place them on their basking spot. In fact, if you keep putting them there, you will no doubt be on the receiving end of one of their famous beardie glares and an extremely black beard!

As a general rule, you will usually find them sleeping, even during the daylight hours, on the cooler side of their enclosures or tanks, preferably as far away from their lights as they can get. If there is anything that they can burrow under, or that will provide shading from the lights, that will usually be where they choose to sleep, and when they are sleeping, you may find it extremely difficult, or even impossible, to wake them.