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The Eastern Bearded Dragon: Australia’s Fascinating Agamid Lizard

Eastern Bearded Dragon

From its Spiky Beard to its Prehensile Tail The Eastern Bearded Dragon Delights in Every Way

The eastern bearded dragon (Pogona barbata), also known as the common bearded dragon or simply bearded lizard, is an interesting agamid lizard native to the wooded regions of Australia. As one of the eight recognized species within the genus Pogona, the eastern bearded dragon has gained popularity as a pet due to its unique appearance and intriguing behavior.

It is one of several species known as bearded dragons. This species is also known as the Jew lizard and the frilly lizard, the latter of which is a misnomer for this and another dragon, the frill-necked lizard (Chlamydosaurus kingii).

The common bearded dragon, also known as the bearded lizard, is an agamid lizard found in wooded areas of Australia.

Georges Cuvier named this species Amphibolurus barbatus when he first described it in 1829.

Description and Physical Characteristics

The eastern bearded dragon is a medium-sized lizard, with adult males reaching lengths of up to 60 cm (24 in) from snout to tail tip, while females may grow up to 50 cm (20 in). One of the most distinctive features of this species is its large, triangular head, which is adorned with spiny, dark grey scales that can be raised to form an impressive “beard” when the lizard feels threatened or excited.

The body of the eastern bearded dragon is relatively slender and flattened dorsoventrally, with several groups of longer spiny scales located at the back of the head, corners of the mouth, external ear openings, and running along both sides of the abdomen. The skin color of adult dragons varies from grey-black to reddish-brown, yellowish-brown, or dark brown, while juveniles are typically paler with patterns that fade as they mature.

eastern bearded dragon, mouth open

Distribution and Habitat

The eastern bearded dragon is most commonly found in eastern Australia, south of Cape York Peninsula, although specimens have been collected from various regions across the continent, including central Australia and even the west coast. These lizards inhabit wooded areas and are arboreal, meaning they spend a significant portion of their time perched on exposed tree branches or logs.

Eastern Bearded Dragon Distribution CC BY-SA 4.0
Eastern Bearded Dragon Distribution CC BY-SA 4.0

Their primary requirement is trees, which they can use for shelter, sunbathing, or simply surveying their territory. If trees are scarce, they will use fence posts as a substitute, jumping to the ground to catch a passing insect or to fend off an intruding bearded dragon.

Ecology and Behavior

As diurnal creatures, eastern bearded dragons are active during the day and retreat to cooler, lower areas when temperatures become too high. They are known to be more aggressive than their close relative, the central bearded dragon (Pogona vitticeps), with males being particularly territorial. Dominant males, usually the largest individuals, claim the highest perches and only allow females and juveniles within their territory.

When faced with a threat, the eastern bearded dragon employs a series of impressive displays to deter potential predators. Initially, it inflates its throat and erects its spiny “beard.” If further provoked, the lizard will open its mouth to reveal the bright yellow lining, a warning sign to potential aggressors. This beard display is performed more frequently by the eastern bearded dragon than its central counterpart, which has a reddish-pink mouth lining.

The Eastern bearded dragon has many unique behaviors. When approached in the wild, the bearded dragon will usually freeze and rely on its camouflage. If they are threatened further, they puff up, extend the ‘beard’ under the throat, and open their mouth wide to reveal the bright yellow lining. They will continue to struggle if picked up, but will rarely bite. It is also a skilled climber, using its prehensile tail to grasp onto branches and rocks.

Reproduction and Sex Determination

Male dragons keep a close eye out for passing females in the spring, attracting their attention with frantic head bobs and arm waving. It is a territorial species and males will often engage in displays of dominance to attract females. Once a female is receptive, the male will mount her and fertilize her eggs.

Female eastern bearded dragons lay their eggs in tunnels dug into dry earth. Interestingly, recent observations have revealed that high temperatures can influence the sex makeup of some individuals. In certain cases, genetically male lizards (those with ZZ chromosomes) have been observed to change their appearance to resemble females and even produce offspring.

The female lays a clutch of 10-20 oval-shaped white eggs with soft, flexible shells about a month after mating. These are placed in a shallow hole dug into the soil in a brightly lit area. After about two months of incubation, the eggs hatch. In good seasons, a single female can produce two or three clutches, the young bearded dragons will be on their own from the moment they hatch.

Diet

The eastern bearded dragon is an opportunistic omnivore and primarily feeds on insects and plants, foraging for food on the ground. It also consumes leaf vegetables such as clover as well as small flowers, fruits, and berries in captivity.

It has a voracious appetite and will eat almost anything it can catch, including mice, smaller reptiles, beetles, crickets, and grasshoppers. It is also known to eat fruit and vegetables, such as apples and lettuce.

Conservation Status

Currently, the eastern bearded dragon is classified as “Least Concern” on the IUCN Red List, indicating that wild populations are stable and not facing significant threats. However, like many other species, they may be impacted by habitat loss and fragmentation as human development continues to encroach on their natural habitats.

Bearded dragons face the most serious threats from habitat loss and degradation caused by land clearing and cattle grazing. They are also occasionally illegally captured for the pet trade. Birds, goannas, snakes, dingoes, feral cats, and foxes eat bearded dragons. They also serve as hosts for a variety of internal parasites and mites.

The eastern bearded dragon is a remarkable agamid lizard that showcases the diversity and adaptability of Australian reptiles. With its striking appearance, fascinating behavior, and unique physiological traits, this species has captured the attention of reptile enthusiasts and researchers alike. As we continue to learn more about the eastern bearded dragon and its role in the ecosystem, it is crucial to ensure the conservation of its natural habitats and the protection of this captivating species for future generations to appreciate and study.

Why bearded dragons bob their heads

Head bobbing is a common behavior among bearded dragons, and it serves several purposes. One reason that bearded dragons bob their heads is to communicate with other bearded dragons. Head bobbing is often used as a form of aggression or dominance, and it can be seen during mating or territorial behaviors.

Another reason that bearded dragons bob their heads is to gauge the distance and size of objects around them. Bearded dragons have poor eyesight and rely on other senses, such as touch and smell, to navigate their environment. Head bobbing allows them to get a better sense of their surroundings and helps them avoid potential threats.

Head bobbing can also be a sign of stress or anxiety in bearded dragons. If a bearded dragon is feeling threatened or uncomfortable, it may bob its head more frequently as a way to communicate its distress.

Eastern Bearded Dragon FAQs

Q: How big do Eastern bearded dragons get?
A: Eastern bearded dragons can reach impressive sizes, with some variations between males and females:

  • Adult males can grow up to 60 cm (24 in) in total length from the snout to the tail tip.
  • Adult females are slightly smaller, typically reaching lengths of up to 50 cm (20 in).
    However, it’s important to note that these are maximum sizes, and many individuals may be smaller. The size of an Eastern bearded dragon can be influenced by factors such as genetics, diet, and environmental conditions.

Q: Are Eastern bearded dragons rare?
A: Eastern bearded dragons are not considered rare within their native range. They are currently classified as “Least Concern” on the IUCN Red List, indicating that wild populations are stable and not facing significant threats. These lizards are relatively common in the wooded parts of eastern Australia, south of Cape York Peninsula. They have also been found in central Australia and even on the west coast, although they are more abundant in the eastern regions of the continent. However, it’s important to note that localized populations may be affected by habitat loss or fragmentation due to human development.

Q: What do Eastern bearded dragons eat?
A: Eastern bearded dragons are omnivores, which means they have a varied diet consisting of both animal and plant matter. In the wild, their diet includes:

  • Small animals: Mice, smaller reptiles, and insects such as crickets, moths, and beetles.
  • Plant matter: Leaves, flowers, fruits, and berries.
    In captivity, their diet should mimic their natural feeding habits. They can be offered a variety of insects (dusted with calcium and vitamin supplements), along with vegetables like leafy greens, carrots, and squash. Fruits and berries can be provided as occasional treats. It’s crucial to provide a balanced and diverse diet to ensure the health and well-being of captive Eastern bearded dragons.

Q: What is the temperament of the Eastern Bearded Dragon?
A: Eastern bearded dragons are known for their relatively calm and docile temperament, which makes them popular pets. However, there are some important points to consider regarding their behavior:

  • Aggression: Eastern bearded dragons are generally more aggressive than their close relative, the Central bearded dragon. Males, in particular, can be territorial and may display aggressive behavior towards other males.
  • Handling: With proper socialization and handling from a young age, Eastern bearded dragons can become quite tame and tolerant of human interaction. However, it’s essential to handle them gently and support their body fully to avoid causing stress or injury.
  • Individuality: Each dragon has its own unique personality, and some may be more skittish or prone to stress than others. It’s crucial to respect your pet’s individual temperament and provide a suitable environment with hiding spots and minimal disturbances.
  • Beard display: When threatened or excited, Eastern bearded dragons may puff out their beard and open their mouth to reveal a bright yellow lining. This is a natural defense mechanism and should not be misinterpreted as aggression towards their keepers.
    Overall, with proper care, socialization, and respect for their natural behaviors, Eastern bearded dragons can make fascinating and rewarding pets depending on permit requirements.
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