15 Bizarre Facts About Bearded Dragons

Learn about why these peculiar lizards pee powder and sleep standing up.

Close-up of bearded dragon in the desert

lindsay_imagery / Getty Images

Bearded dragons are lizards that live in the deserts, savannas, scrublands, and subtropical forests of Australia. Due to their friendly demeanor, permanent smiles, and idle nature, they are also quite commonly kept as pets around the world. They get their name from the spikelike projections on their necks and are, as such, affectionately known by reptile hobbyists as "beardies."

There are eight species of bearded dragon, plus a range of colors and "morphs" developed through captive breeding. The six species so far assessed by the IUCN all have stable populations in their native mainland Australia and are classed as species of least concern.

Discover more about these gentle dragons, including their amazing ability to shift between sexes and their absolutely bizarre powder urine.

Fast Facts

Common Name: Bearded dragon

Scientific Name: Pogona

Average Lifetime in the Wild: up to 10 years

Average Lifetime in Captivity: 7 to 15 years

IUCN Red List Status: Least concern

Current Population: Unknown

1. Bearded Dragons Can Climb Trees

Although wild bearded dragons are mostly terrestrial, they are technically semi-arboreal and can become expert tree climbers when needed—say, when food is unavailable at ground level or when they're being pursued by a predator. As avid baskers, they'll also scale trees for a good patch of sun or to bask at a higher level than another bearded dragon, which a symbol of dominance.

2. They Wear Their Emotions on Their Chins

Angry bearded dragon with mouth open and beard spines erect

photosbyash / Getty Images

The signature beard of these dragons behaves almost like a mood ring, going black when the animal feels threated, stressed, or aroused. During these various emotional states, it can also expand and the dragon can puff up its entire body to look big. In a calm and happy state, the pouch under a beardie's chin will be similarly colored to the rest of its body with spines that rest flat against its skin.

3. They Are Legally Bound to Their Homeland

Australia has prohibited the export of its wildlife, including bearded dragons, since the '60s. Yet, even after that—between 1974 and 1990, some have estimated—a stock was smuggled out of the country for captive breeding.

Now, domestic versions of the Aussie lizard can be found all around the world (except Hawaii, where they're illegal to own because of the threat they pose to the native ecosystem). Though not confirmed, there are believed to be about 900 bearded dragons living in zoos globally.

4. Bearded Dragons Can Regrow Their Teeth

Bearded dragon
Fernando Trabanco Fotografía / Getty Images

The ability to regenerate teeth is a quality shared by many reptiles. Bearded dragons are unique, though, in that they have both polyphyodont and monophyodont teeth, even on the same jawline. The dragons use a similar biological process to what sharks and geckos use to regrow their polyphyodont front teeth over time; if the monophyodont chompers fall out, they're gone for good.

5. They Collect Water on Their Heads

The desert where bearded dragons come from is a droughty place, and animals adapt to the arid environment with quirky ways of capturing and storing water. For the Pogona genus, one of those ways is by capturing water on its own body during rare bouts of rain. The lizards have been observed standing on their hind legs with their heads sloping downward, lapping up the water as it streams down their faces for 20 to 30 minutes at a time.

6. Females Can Store Sperm for Later

Bearded dragons can lay two clutches of 11 to 30 eggs per season after having mated only once. Females have an unusual ability to store sperm in their reproductive tracts, then fertilize the eggs themselves so long as that sperm is put to use within the same breeding period. This allows the female to maximize offspring while minimizing mating, which the male often makes violent by biting his mate's neck. Bearded dragons reach sexual maturity at one to two years of age.

7. Bearded Dragons Communicate With Nods and Waves

Portrait of a bearded dragon in the grass, Indonesia
lessydoang / Getty Images

Bearded dragons are beloved for their anthropomorphic body language—namely head bobbing and arm waving. The reason for these motions isn't entirely understood, but experts believe the waving to be a symbol of submission to a dominant individual. The head bobbing, conversely, is likely a sign of dominance; it's also exhibited by both sexes to initiate mating.  

Especially humanlike are the examples bearded dragon keepers give of their beardies waving seemingly cordially to them. It's a touchy subject, though, as some argue that the wave is an indicator of stress.

8. They Can Change Color Like Chameleons

Bearded dragons' shade-shifting habits are a bit different to those of the chameleon. For starters, the chameleon's evolving colors are more prominent than the bearded dragon's, but also, the bearded dragon can isolate parts of the body it wants to change color. Research has linked color changes in the neck region to social interactions and changes to color in the back area to temperature regulation.

In sunny conditions, it will air lighter to reflect rays. In cooler weather, it will air darker to help it absorb the heat and maintain its ideal internal body temperature of 95 degrees.

9. They Can Sleep Standing Up

Bearded dragon sleeping upright against rock in enclosure

Ian Collins / Flickr / CC BY-ND 2.0

Forums in the beardie-owning community are awash with anecdotes about pet dragons sleeping in highly awkward positions, like propped up against the glass walls and ornaments inside their tanks. It's said that they sleep vertically in the wild too, often up against trees.

Although it's unclear why they would deviate from their typical and presumably more comfortable belly-down sleeping position, upright snoozing doesn't seem to be any cause for concern.

10. They Can Run at Human Speed

The bearded dragon's top speed, believed to be 9 mph, compares to human running speeds. The lizard rarely runs this fast, instead leading a mostly sedentary lifestyle overall. When the time does call for quickness, though, the bearded dragon might raise up on its rear legs and run like a human. Because it carries more weight in the back of the body, being upright helps the dragon optimize its speed.

11. Male Beardies Become Females in Warm Temperatures

Studies have found that male bearded dragons subjected to temperatures 96.8 degrees and above during embryonic development transition to females 100% of the time. Not only are they capable of sex reversal, but female beardies that were originally males (trans beardies, they could be determined) can also produce twice as many eggs as non-trans females.

Even though bearded dragon populations are currently stable, this heat-driven phenomenon raises concern around the reptile's ability to adapt to climate change, one study said.

12. They Like Their Alone Time

Bearded dragon keepers need not wonder whether their scaly friends are lonely in their tanks all by themselves. Rest assured they aren't; the reptiles are solitary creatures that may live in colonies consisting of one male and multiple females in the wild but ultimately should not be put in a captive setting with another.

13. They Pee Powder

One of the oddest characteristics of the bearded dragon is the way it urinates. Instead of peeing liquid, it releases uric acid in the form of a white powder or chalky paste—called "urate"—which it has evolved to do as a means of retaining water in the hot, dry Australian wild. It excretes urates through a cloaca, the same cavity from which feces come out.

14. Bearded Dragons Brumate in the Winter

Sleeping bearded dragon blending in with surrounding brick

Photogirl / Getty Images

Brumation is a dormancy period similar to hibernation. Bearded dragons brumate for a few weeks to a few months—in the northern hemisphere the signs start around November, but in the wild, beardies start brumating in June, when winter hits Australia.

Brumation begins with sluggishness and a loss of appetite and leads into a long sleep where the dragon's heart rate, body temperature, and metabolism will all decrease substantially to conserve energy.

15. They Can Carry Salmonella (and Pass It Onto People)

Reptiles, in general, are known to carry salmonella germs in their digestive tracts. Of course, when they defecate, the bacteria can transfer to their skin and then onto humans where reptiles are being regularly handled. In the U.S., the Centers for Disease Control keeps tabs on salmonella outbreaks across all pet species, and bearded dragons are a recurring source. In June 2022, for example, one outbreak caused 56 people to become ill and 19 hospitalized across 26 states.

The animal welfare group PETA points to this—and their solitary nature, and "rampant abuse and neglect" within the beardie trade—as major reasons why the animals should not be kept as pets.

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