Eastern Bearded Dragon: Species Profile, Characteristics, Behavior, Care Requirements

Learn all about the Eastern Bearded Dragon and how to care for them.

The eastern bearded dragon (Pogona barbata) is a charismatic species native to Australia. These reptiles have become popular exotic pets due to their manageable size, docile temperament, and interesting behaviors.

While caring for an eastern bearded dragon requires some specialized knowledge, they can make great additions to the right homes with the proper setup and care.

This species profile will cover the key characteristics, behaviors, and care requirements for eastern bearded dragons. With the right information and a commitment to providing a stimulating environment, you can ensure your eastern bearded dragon thrives for many enjoyable years.

Bearded Dragon SpeciesSpecies Profile

Family: Agamidae
Class: Reptilia
Genus: Pogona
Species: Pogona barbata
Lifespan: 8-12 years
Length: 18-24 inches
Weight: 0.5-1 pound
Energy Level: Moderate
Personality: Docile, curious, sociable, and inquisitive
Temperament: Generally calm and friendly

Species Profile

Eastern Bearded Dragons, or as the science folks prefer, “Pogona Barbata“, hail from the varied landscapes of down-under, where the kangaroos roam – yes, you guessed it – Australia! Remember to say ‘g’day mate’ when you meet one. Just don’t expect them to say it back.

These charming reptiles can span up to 24 inches, sporting a range of colors from grey to dark brown. They have a sprinkling of spiky scales running down both sides of their body, which in conjunction with their ‘dragon-like’ head, gives them an unmistakably ‘ancient’ appeal. However, don’t let the exterior intimidate you; many owners swear by their calm and affectionate disposition.

In the wild, these beardies are mostly seen basking in the sun, doing some good old sunbathing (minus the sunscreen). When they’re not busy perfecting their tan, they’re digging, climbing trees, or catching a quick snack.

Their size, coupled with their unique behaviors and the fascinating ability to change skin color depending on temperature and mood, make them one of the most sought-after exotic pets around the world.

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History

Eastern Bearded Dragon: Species Profile, Characteristics, Behavior, Care Requirements

The Eastern Bearded Dragon (Pogona barbata) has a rich and intriguing history that spans thousands of years. This remarkable reptile has not only played a significant role in the ecosystems of its native Australia but has also captured the attention and interest of humans throughout history.

Ancient Origins and Evolution

The evolutionary history of the Eastern Bearded Dragon traces back millions of years. It belongs to the Agamidae family, which includes various lizard species. Fossil evidence suggests that bearded dragons have existed in Australia for at least 40 million years, with some ancient relatives having inhabited the continent even earlier.

Popularity as Pets

Bearded dragons gained popularity as pets in the late 20th century, primarily due to their unique appearance, docile nature, and manageable size. The Eastern Bearded Dragon quickly became one of the most sought-after lizard species in the pet trade, leading to increased captive breeding efforts.

However, since Australia banned wildlife exports, their numbers have declined rapidly in captivity – it is rare to find an eastern in captivity these days, and even the ones you find might have been diluted/cross-bred with Centrals (which are the most commonly found bearded dragon species).

Characteristics and Appearance

Eastern Bearded Dragon: Species Profile, Characteristics, Behavior, Care Requirements

Their unique appearance and charismatic personality have made these dragons become popular pets and subjects of fascination for reptile enthusiasts worldwide. Let us take a look at their characteristics:

Striking Size

Size is among the most notable features of the Eastern Bearded Dragon. These creatures outshine their counterparts in this regard quite comfortably. Adults grow up to 24 inches in length–making them one of the large members of the genus Pogona. They possess a somewhat robust figure with a broad, triangular head and strong limbs that allow them easy navigation across their habitat.

Vivid Coloration

Eastern Bearded Dragons are known for their vibrant and often varying color patterns. They range from dark grey to various shades of brown. Most of their bodies’ design serves an essential purpose: to blend with their environments. This is more evident when observing the patterns on their skin that mirror the rugged landscapes they commonly inhabit.

Unique Physiological Features

By looking at the dragon’s throat, you can see the feature that earns it the name ‘Bearded’. They sport a row of spiky scales under their chin, mimicking the appearance of a beard. Something you’ll find downright fascinating is how they control these spikes. When they sense danger or try to assert dominance, they puff out their throat, making the beard appear larger and more pronounced.

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Thermal Color Changing

Depending on the environmental temperature or their body temperature, they subtly change their skin color. Surprisingly, they adopt a darker tone while basking in the sun to absorb more heat, while a lighter hue takes over when they intend to cool down. This color shifting is not just for thermal regulation, but also a communication tool during social interactions.

Morphs

The Eastern Bearded Dragon does not have that many morphs that can be found within the species. However, some breeders have taken it upon themselves to create hybrid eastern dragons, cross-breeding them with other dragons (mostly Centrals) to create (really good) variations.

An example:

Image credits: Vreptiles

What are morphs?

Morphs are genetic variations that result in unique physical characteristics and color patterns. These variations add to the allure and appeal of these reptiles for enthusiasts and collectors.

Some popular morphs include:

  • Classic: The classic morph is the most common and represents the natural coloration of the species. It typically features shades of brown, tan, and gray, helping the dragon blend into its environment.
  • Hypo: The hypo morph displays a reduced amount of melanin pigment, resulting in lighter and brighter colors. Hypo dragons often have a more vibrant appearance with lighter shades of brown, orange, and yellow.
  • Translucent: Translucent bearded dragons have a unique appearance due to their translucent scales. This morph gives the dragons a somewhat “see-through” appearance, especially in juveniles. The translucency can diminish as the dragon matures.
  • Leatherback: The leatherback morph is characterized by scales that are smoother and reduced in size compared to the classic morph. This gives the dragon a sleeker and more “leathery” appearance. Leatherbacks often have a reduced amount of spikiness on their backs.
  • Silkback/Silk: Silkback bearded dragons possess a genetic mutation that results in the absence of scales. As a result, their skin appears smooth and silky. Silkbacks require extra care and attention due to their lack of protective scales, as they are more susceptible to injuries and dehydration.

Each morph has its unique aesthetic appeal, and collectors may prioritize certain morphs based on personal preferences.

Diet and Nutrition

Eastern Bearded Dragons are omnivores; meaning they relish both plants and meat. In the wild, they munch on a diversified diet consisting of invertebrates, plant matter, and even the occasional small vertebrate. When kept as pets, offering them a varied diet that reflects their natural preferences is crucial.

Insects and Invertebrates

Insects and other invertebrates constitute a substantial part of an Eastern Bearded Dragon’s diet, packed with proteins and other essential nutrients. Some popular options include:

  • Crickets
  • Mealworms
  • Superworms
  • Waxworms
  • Roaches
  • Earthworms
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Don’t forget to “gut load” these insects by feeding them a nutritious diet before offering them to your beardie. Doing so ensures that your bearded dragon gets an optimal nutrient supply.

Plant Matter

Eastern Bearded Dragons also benefit immensely from plant matter in their diet. Offering a mix of vegetables, fruits, and leafy greens provides them with essential nutrients such as vitamins, minerals, and fiber. Some good options include:

  • Collard Greens
  • Endive
  • Dandelion Greens
  • Butternut Squash
  • Bell Peppers
  • Blueberries

Remember to chop the fruits and vegetables into small, manageable pieces for easy consumption by your bearded dragon.

Foods To Be Cautious About

While diversity in their diet is crucial, some foods should be served sparingly or avoided entirely. Certain insects, fruits, or vegetables carry risks that can negatively impact their health. For instance:

  • Limit avocado, spinach, and rhubarb, as they contain high levels of oxalates that can bind to calcium, leading to potential health issues.
  • Feed lettuce, tomatoes, and beet greens in moderation, as they offer little nutritional value.
  • Avoid fireflies, as they are toxic to Eastern Bearded Dragons.

Always research the nutritional value and potential risks before offering a new food item to your bearded dragon.

Feeding Schedule

Creating a proper feeding schedule for your Eastern Bearded Dragon can make dietary management more manageable. Here’s a rough guideline for various age groups:

  • Juveniles (up to 6 months): Offer insects 2-3 times per day and plant matter daily.
  • Sub-Adults (6-12 months): Offer insects once per day and plant matter daily.
  • Adults (over 12 months): Offer insects 2-3 times per week and plant matter daily.

NOTE: The feeding schedule may vary depending on your bearded dragon’s specific needs. Consult a specialist if you are unsure of the ideal schedule for your pet.

Housing Options

If you’ve chosen to share your life with an Eastern Bearded Dragon, then you need to provide it with a comfortable home, which luckily, isn’t a mammoth task. Eastern Bearded Dragons, hailing from the varied landscapes of Australia, are used to a range of weather conditions and terrains — as such, they thrive in environments that closely imitate their natural habitats. These housing options are as follows:

1. Glass Terrariums: The most common housing option, glass terrariums, offer excellent visibility, and ease of cleaning, and are readily available in pet stores. However, its poor insulating abilities mean you’ll need to manage heat more attentively.

2. Wooden Vivariums: These not only look aesthetic but are also excellent at holding heat due to their insulative properties. Some vivariums may also come with built-in compartments for managing heating and lighting units. Nevertheless, their heavyweight and challenging cleaning routine could be considered downsides.

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3. Outdoor Enclosures: These enclosures should be considered as supplemental to indoor housing. Providing opportunities for natural basking and exploration, they contribute to improving dragons’ physiological health. However, they require constant surveillance to protect dragons from external threats like predators and harsh weather conditions.

Essential Features in a Bearded Dragon Enclosure

1. Appropriate Size: Typically, for an adult Eastern Bearded Dragon, an enclosure of 75-125 gallons is recommended. This allows them adequate room for exploration.

2. Ventilation: Adequate ventilation is paramount to keep the environment within the enclosure fresh and prevent the buildup of excessive humidity.

3. Heating and Lighting: Establishing a thermal gradient within the enclosure using basking spots and UVB lights will help the dragon thermoregulate successfully.

4. Substrate: You can use newspaper, reusable reptile carpet, or tiles for adding substrate, allowing easy clean-ups. Loose substrates are generally discouraged due to ingestion risk.

5. Furnishing and Decor: Include perching spots, hideouts, and decor that mirrors their natural habitat. This adds to their physical and mental health.

Housing Multiple Bearded Dragons – Yay or Nah?

Co-housing bearded dragons can lead to competition for resources and stress. So, if you decide to have your dragons live together, additional space and resources must be provided to ensure each reptile’s welfare.

NOTE: It is recommended to house adult Eastern Bearded Dragons alone to prevent unnecessary stress and potential dominance issues.

Health Issues

When it comes to Eastern Bearded Dragons, knowing about potential health issues can play a crucial role in ensuring a long, healthy life for these remarkable creatures.

Reptile Fungal Infections

Any owner of an Eastern Bearded Dragon should indeed have some level of familiarity with the topic of fungal infections. These are generally caused by a poor enclosure environment, namely too much humidity. Signs include abnormal skin coloration, loss of appetite, and unusual lethargy.

Metabolic Bone Disease (MBD)

This disease, often riddling reptiles under human care, stems from a lack of calcium in their diet or insufficient UVB exposure. Signs comprise poor bone health, loss of appetite, and jaw softening.

Mouth Rot (Stomatitis)

Mouth rot is an infection of the mouth and gums that causes swelling, discoloration, and even pus. It’s crucial to maintain cleanliness in your dragon’s enclosure to prevent mouth rot.

Respiratory Infections

These infections are commonly caused by too cold or too humid environments or poor overall hygiene. Coughing, wheezing, and mucus around the dragon’s nose and mouth are signs to look out for.

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Impaction

Impaction happens when your bearded dragon’s digestive tract gets blocked, often due to eating something too large or indigestible. An impacted dragon might stop eating, become lethargic, and show signs of distress.

Parasites

Parasites can invade a dragon’s body externally and internally. External parasites such as mites and ticks can cause skin irritation and infection. Internal parasites, often transmitted through food, can cause diarrhea, weight loss, and poor appetite.

Proper Prevention and Care

Regularly monitor their behavior, diet, and fecal matter. It’s also important to maintain clean housing conditions. Provide a well-balanced diet, enough UVB exposure, and a perfect balance of heat and humidity.

Tips When Dealing With Health Issues

  • Seek a vet’s help: Always remember, it’s best to consult a professional. They can accurately diagnose and prescribe effective treatment for your bearded dragon.
  • Quarantine: If you have multiple dragons, and one falls sick, keep him/her separated to prevent the disease from spreading.
  • Regular Check-ups: Regular vet visits can nip any potential health issues in the bud.

General Care Tips

Taking care of an Eastern Bearded Dragon, while rewarding, requires some diligence on your part.

1. Proper Feeding

Eastern Bearded Dragons require a diet combining both plant-based and insect-based foods. This variety not only ensures optimal health but also engages them food-wise.

Remember to balance the nutrient ratios – while young dragons need more protein, older dragons require more fiber. Regularly offer fresh vegetables and fruits and gut-loaded insects to form a well-rounded diet.

Habitat Setup and Maintenance

After feeding, the next crucial aspect of caring for your bearded dragon revolves around its housing. The enclosure should mimic their natural habitat as closely as possible, featuring an appropriate gradient of temperatures, UVB lighting, and ample space to explore.

The substrate should be easy to clean and digest if accidentally eaten. Remember to clean the enclosure regularly and provide fresh water daily to prevent bacterial and fungal build-up.

Promoting Healthy Behavior and Activities

Encouraging natural behaviors such as climbing, exploring, and basking promotes psychological health. Provide rocks, branches, and basking spots to encourage these activities. Introduce toys and rearrange the enclosure layout now and then to keep your dragon mentally stimulated.

Health Maintenance

Regular health check-ups, both at home and from a professional, are invaluable in nipping possible health issues in the bud. Be vigilant about any changes in their behavior, eating patterns, and physical appearance. Increased lethargy, changes in weight, abnormal droppings, or swelling in any body parts warrant a visit to a reptile vet.

Regular Interaction

Interaction plays a vital role in fostering a strong bond of trust between you and your bearded dragon. Start with short, regular intervals of handling and gradually increase as your dragon becomes more comfortable with you.

Conclusion

A healthy and happy Eastern Bearded Dragon requires multifaceted care beyond food and shelter. By incorporating these care tips into your routine, you ensure not just bolstering their health but also magnifying their life’s joy and quality.

Hope this eases your journey into the mesmerizing world of Eastern Bearded Dragons. Remember—they’re not mythical creatures, just regular beings, and with your dedicated care and efforts, they’ll live their best life!

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