So you’re a new bearded dragon keeper, and you’ve taken utmost care in ensuring your beardie’s comfort and wellbeing. But one day, you notice its beard turning black. So you went into bearded dragon forums to ask about it, but the responses you’ve gotten are conflicting, if not alarming, you end up more confused than ever.
What is really causing this bearded dragon black beard? Don’t be alarmed, and don’t immediately jump to the conclusion that your beardie is sick and dying, which is what’s often going around in beardie care talk.
Bearded dragon black beard is essentially caused by stress, which in turn, can be caused by several factors, ranging from environmental factors to your bearded dragon’s health.
In general, pogona vitticeps or central bearded dragons, use their beards for aggression or mating displays. Perceived or actual threat from the environment, as well as sexual arousal, are both basic forms of stress, which can be expressed in the following ten possible causes for bearded dragon black beard.
10 Reasons Why Your Bearded Dragon’s Beard is Black
By nature and as pets, bearded dragons are gentle, easygoing, and territorial loners. They are quickly tamed, even by new keepers who are not familiar with beardies.
As long as their non-negotiable needs are met, they happily thrive and charm you with their unique individual personalities and eccentricities. These non-negotiable needs are enough space to move around in the correct range of temperatures, items to climb, and areas to dig.
So, if your beardie is showing a black beard, it could be that one or a combination of these needs have not been met or unsatisfactorily met. This would then cause them stress, and the following stress factors could explain in more detail what they’re going through and what you can do about it.
1. Poor care
You might think that you’ve given it all the care and love you have in you, but if it’s not the kind of correct care it needs, it could still be poor care. Check if you’ve provided their non-negotiable needs adequately.
Does it have enough space to move around in? It would depend on their age and size. Baby beardies up to 10 inches long would need a space range from a 20-gallon tank measuring 24 x 12 x 16 inches to a 40-gallon tank measuring 36 x 18 x 18 inches.
Juvenile beardies 10 to 18 inches long would need a space range from a 55-gallon tank measuring 48 x 13 x 21 to a 75-gallon tank measuring 48x18x21. Adult or geriatric beardies more than 18 inches long would need a space range from a 75-gallon tank measuring 48 x 18 x 21 inches to a 120plus-gallon tank measuring 48 x 24 x 24 inches.
Does its enclosure have the correct range of temperature and lighting provisions? Daytime temperatures should be from 92 to 110 degrees Fahrenheit, with a cool area of 80 degrees. The nighttime temperature should be around 70 degrees. Make sure it has 30% to 40% humidity, with a UVB tube light, and a 75w UVA basking light.
Expert Tip: Most beardies turn darker in the early morning chill and return to their original color after hours of basking and their bodies have reached their optimal temperature. If your beardie feels cold, it could also exhibit its black beard to obtain more heat, since black absorbs more heat than light colors.
Reptiles are cold-blooded animals that depend on their external environment for heat and light to keep their bodies warm.
Check your thermometer to make sure it’s correct. Check your lamps and UVB lights to make sure they’re operating up to standard. Does it have a clean and rich environment for climbing and hiding? Provide a reptile carpet for substrate, and half-logs, hammocks, branches, plants, hides, and a bath dish for decorating its enclosure.
Are you feeding it an optimal diet? Although bearded dragons can eat a wide range of live food, their daily optimal diet should have a well-balanced combination of 50% plant-based and 50% animal-based protein- and calcium-rich food.
Younger beardies tend to be more carnivorous eating twice daily, while older beardies tend to become more herbivorous eating only once daily.
Recommended insects for optimal bearded dragon nutrition are black soldier fly larvae, butter worms, cockroaches, crickets, dubia roaches, earthworms, locusts, redworms, and super worms.
Avoid insects found outside, sold as bait, and found inside your home, as well as fireflies and other insects that glow elder bugs, and venomous insects like bees, wasps, and scorpions.
Recommended vegetables and fruits should be fresh and not frozen, mostly greens and raw vegetables like squash, collard greens, bell peppers mustard greens, and seedless watermelon.
2. Adjustment to a new home
If you’ve recently brought it home, or you’ve just transferred it to a new enclosure, it might still be adjusting to its new environment and would need more time to acclimatize. As long as you’ve ensured that you’ve provided its non-negotiable needs, there is no cause for concern.
All that’s left for you to do now is to give your beardie time to adjust and continue giving it the regular and stable care and attention it needs.
3. Distrust of you
If you’re new to each other, it would naturally not trust you yet. So, it would display its black beard to show that it’s feeling like you’re a threat. Approach your beardie gently, slowly, and gradually, and not lavish all of your attention upon it all at once.
Expert Tip: Earn its trust first by giving it space, slowly increasing the amount of time you spend with it, and continuing to provide stable care.
4. Needs your attention
On the other hand, if you have already developed a good relationship together, it might also show its black beard to indicate that it misses your attention. You might just have been around its enclosure and feeding it perfunctorily, but it needs your presence and mindful attention, too.
This is especially true if it has grown accustomed to your attention and you suddenly got busy with other areas of your life and only paid it minimal regard.
There might be other animals or humans around their enclosure that are stressing their normally mellow nature and making them angry. This could take the form of your other pets peeking into their enclosure, especially from above, or very young children noisily tapping on their tank.
Remove these upsets from their environment, or transfer their tank to a quieter, more serene place that won’t disturb them and make them feel threatened.
Fear could be from heightened anger, where the threats it perceived from its environment are intensified. In the wild, bearded dragons’ threats usually come from above.
Expert Tip: So, if you’re feeding it from above, or other people and pets keep on looking at it from above, then your beardie could feel very scared and show its black beard as a form of counter-aggression. Stop doing this and see if your beardie’s black beard disappears.
7. Post-brumation black
After a period of brumation which is the reptiles’ version of hibernation, their bodies turn black as they adjust from lethargy to active life. If your beardie has been sleeping more, with decreased appetite, pooing less (from eating less), going to sleep earlier, and mostly hiding in the shade, you can be sure that it has been in brumation.
Allow it time and space to get accustomed to daily active living again, and just keep giving it the stable care it needs.
8. Territorial Behavior
If your beardie is showing a black beard and puffing it up at the same time, it’s clearly displaying aggression to enforce its territorial dominance. This can happen if you’ve put your beardie in an enclosure it shares with another one or two bearded dragons, or if you’ve put an additional beardie into the enclosure it has previously been known as only its own.
Since bearded dragons are territorial loners and do best alone, it is never a good idea to put them together in one enclosure, unless temporarily for mating. If you have to put them together, they should be of the same size, to prevent larger beardies from dominating the smaller ones.
Never put more than one male together with other beardies either, due to their extremely territorial tendencies. Both could cause a lot of conflict and stress, as well as injuries. Females should be healthy and at least two years old when housed with male beardies.
Younger and unhealthy females are at risk for health problems and could even become critically ill.
9. Mating Call
During mating season, male bearded dragons’ beards turn black as a mating signal. This is meant to attract a mate and show off how suitable they are coupled with rapidly bobbing their heads and slapping their hands on the ground in the vicinity of the intended female.
It is also meant to show dominance and warn other smaller males to stay away from his female. In the more advanced phases of courtship, the male will circle around the female dragon and intensify its mating gestures.
If the female is receptive and accepts the male’s signals, it will also bob its head up and down at the male and wave one of her arms in a circular motion. This will only happen, though, if you have male and female beardies within each other’s vicinity.
Expert Tip: If you only have one beardie, the mating call obviously won’t be a reason for your bearded dragon’s beard turning black.
10. Poor health
Finally, if you’ve gone through this list and crossed off the first nine reasons as the cause for your dragon’s beard turning black, it could be likely then that your beardie might be suffering from poor health. Usually, though, ill-health will be indicated by the presence of several other signs, not just a black beard.
Look out for these signs of poor health accompanying your dragon’s black beard: not breathing smoothly or quietly, discharges from the eyes/ears/nose and mouth, puffy, bulging, or swollen eyes, rapid weight loss, lethargy, changes in bowel movements, skin bumps, discoloration, lesions, sores, body bloating, and strange, erratic behaviors.
If any or a lot of these are present along with your dragon’s black beard, take your beardie to the vet. Ideally, it should be a ’herp’ vet or herpetologist who specializes in treating reptilians and amphibians.
However, if there’s only a black beard but your beardie is otherwise behaving normally, there might not be a major cause for concern. Just watch and wait and make sure all the other possible reasons are addressed. The black beard will likely not last for long.
What About Gray Beards?
If your bearded dragon’s beard is not black but gray, this is usually a sign that shedding is about to occur, or is already occurring. You will know it’s shedding when it manifests these four subtle behavioral changes, skin darkening to a dull, gray color, decreased appetite, eyes bulging, and skittish behavior like rubbing up against hard surfaces.
Younger dragons shed more frequently than older ones. If this is what’s happening to your beardie, you can help it by continuing to offer food and a clean enclosure environment, avoiding handling it. Providing rough surfaces for it to rub against, checking that UVB lighting is up to standard, and providing nutrient supplements.
Expert Tip: In general, bearded dragons change colors in different parts of their body for temperature regulation and for communication.
A team of Australian researchers has found that bearded dragon lizards change their back colors for temperature regulation since their backs are the primary areas exposed to sunlight and heat, and their beard and chest colors for social communication since their beards and chests are the primary areas exposed to other lizards and the environment.
Bearded dragons turn their beards black to express their emotional situation at any moment in time and when stressed. It’s their way of communicating to you how they really feel.
So, pay attention to their behaviors, research and understand more what these behaviors really mean, and respond accordingly with the correct and stable care that your beardie needs to make it feel safe, secure, and richly thriving.
If you have other experiences with your beardie’s beard colors or have more questions you want to be answered, please share your comments below.