Sometimes bearded dragons may exhibit strange behaviors that can worry their owners. One of these behaviors is turning black, especially on their beard area. Why do bearded dragons turn black? Is it normal or a sign of something wrong?
In this post, we will explore the possible causes and solutions for this phenomenon.
Reasons Why Bearded Dragon Beards Turn Black
Bearded dragons have special cells called chromatophores on their skin that allow them to change color. These cells contain pigments and reflect light, which helps to create the color of a bearded dragon’s eyes and skin.
Bearded dragons can change their color for various reasons, such as thermoregulation, communication, mood, stress, or health issues.
Bearded dragons use body language and color changes to communicate with other bearded dragons or potential predators. They may turn black to show dominance, aggression, territoriality, or readiness to mate.
They can also change their color according to their mood or emotions. They may turn darker when they are angry, anxious, bored, or depressed. They may turn lighter when they are happy, relaxed, curious, or excited.
Depending on the context and other symptoms, turning black can mean different things for your bearded dragon.
Here are some common reasons why bearded dragons turn black:
1. Temperature Regulation
Bearded dragons are ectothermic animals, which means they rely on external sources of heat to regulate their body temperature. They can change their skin color to help them absorb or reflect heat.
When bearded dragons are cold, they may turn darker to absorb more heat from their surroundings. When they are warm, they may turn lighter to reflect excess heat.
Too hot or cold temperatures can affect bearded dragon’s pigment cells and cause them to produce more or less melanin. Melanin is a pigment that gives color to their skin, scales, and beard.
You should provide your bearded dragon with a temperature gradient in their enclosure with a basking spot of around 95-110°F and a cool spot of around 75-85°F. You should also use a thermometer to monitor the temperature and adjust it as needed.
2. Feeling Threatened/scared/Aggressive
Bearded dragons can also turn black when they feel threatened or scared by something in their environment. This can be caused by predators, loud noises, sudden movements, or unfamiliar objects.
When bearded dragons are frightened, they may turn darker to blend in with their surroundings or to appear larger and more intimidating. They may also puff up their beard, hiss or open their mouth to warn off potential threats.
Some common signs that a bearded dragon is feeling threatened or scared include:
- Hiding or seeking shelter
- Rapid breathing or panting
- Vocalizing or making loud noises
- Flattening their body or tail
- Stretching out their legs
- Flicking their tongue rapidly
You should make sure your bearded dragon feels safe and secure in their enclosure by providing them with hiding places, climbing branches, and adequate lighting.
Avoid stressing your bearded dragon by handling them gently and calmly, limiting their exposure to loud noises or sudden movements, and introducing them gradually to new objects or people.
3. Stress and Anxiety
Bearded dragons can also turn black when they are stressed by something. This can be caused by poor husbandry, inadequate diet, lack of stimulation, overcrowding, or illness.
When bearded dragons are stressed, they may turn darker to express their discomfort or displeasure. They may also show other signs of stress such as:
- Reduced or loss of appetite
- Decreased activity or basking time
- Dark coloration or stress marks on the chin, neck, belly, or limbs
- Glass surfing (scratching at the glass walls of the enclosure)
- Frequent hiding or digging
- Aggression or biting
If your bearded dragon is turning black because of stress, you should try to identify and eliminate the cause of stress if possible.
For example, if your dragon is stressed by its diet, you should provide a balanced and varied diet that includes fresh greens, vegetables, fruits, insects, and supplements.
If your dragon is stressed by its environment, you should ensure that it has a spacious and clean enclosure with proper lighting (UVB and UVA), heating (basking and gradient), ventilation (air flow), substrate (flooring), decorations (hides and plants), and hygiene (water and sanitation).
If your dragon is stressed by parasites or infections, you should consult a reptile vet for diagnosis and treatment.
4. Looking for a Mate
Bearded dragons can also turn black when they are looking for a mate during their breeding season. This can happen from late winter to early spring. When they are in breeding mode, they may turn darker to attract potential partners or to compete with rivals.
Head bobbing: A typical display of interest in a mate, usually from the male dragon, is head bobbing. This involves moving the head up and down rapidly to show dominance or excitement. The faster the head bobbing, the more intense the message.
Foot stomping: This is another common behavior displayed by males when they are interested in a potential mate. This involves stamping their feet on the ground to show strength or aggression. The foot stomping can form a pattern or be random.
Arm waving: This is a submissive response to the male’s head bobbing or foot stomping, usually from the female dragon. This involves lifting one arm in the air and rotating it in a circular motion to show submission or acceptance. The arm waving can also signal curiosity or greeting.
Mouth opening/gaping: This is another way of showing interest or readiness for mating, usually from both sexes. This involves opening the mouth wide and exposing the teeth to show readiness or aggression.
Bearded dragons can also turn black due to various infections that affect their skin, mouth, eyes, or internal organs. Some of these infections include fungal infections, bacterial infections, viral infections, or parasitic infections. These infections can cause symptoms such as inflammation, discharge, ulcers, sores, or loss of appetite.
You should prevent infections by keeping your bearded dragon’s enclosure clean and hygienic and providing them with a healthy diet and supplements.
You should also quarantine any new or sick bearded dragons from your existing ones to avoid cross-contamination.
Note: If you notice any signs of infection in your bearded dragon, you should consult a vet for diagnosis and treatment.
6. Tail Rot
Tail rot is a condition where the tail tip of a bearded dragon becomes black, necrotic, and falls off due to poor blood flow or infection. This can be caused by retained shed skin, injury, bite wounds, or parasites.
If left untreated, tail rot can spread to other parts of the body and become fatal. You should check your bearded dragon’s tail regularly for any signs of discoloration, swelling, or foul smell and seek veterinary attention immediately if you suspect tail rot.
Read More >> Bearded Dragon Tail Rot
Impaction is a condition where a bearded dragon’s digestive tract becomes blocked by undigested food, substrate, or foreign objects. This can cause abdominal pain, bloating, constipation, loss of appetite, and lethargy.
Impaction can also affect the blood flow to the limbs and cause them to turn black. You should prevent impaction by feeding your bearded dragon a balanced diet with appropriate size and frequency and avoiding substrates that can be ingested such as sand, gravel, or wood chips.
You should also provide your bearded dragon with enough water and exercise to help them digest their food. If you suspect impaction, you should take your bearded dragon to a vet as soon as possible.
Read More >> Bearded Dragon Impaction
8. Lack of Proper Diet or Nutrition
Bearded dragons, like all reptiles, require a specific balance of nutrients in their diet1 to maintain their overall health. When they do not receive the necessary nutrients, their bodies may react by changing color.
In the case of bearded dragons turning black, a lack of proper diet or nutrition could be the cause. This is because the pigmentation in their skin, which determines their color, is directly related to their diet.
Without the proper nutrients, bearded dragon’s skin may become darker or take on a black color. This is a sign that their body is not receiving the necessary nourishment and may be at risk for health issues if the issue is not addressed.
Make sure that bearded dragons are provided with a well-balanced diet that includes a variety of fruits, vegetables, and insects to support their overall health and prevent color changes due to malnutrition.
9. Aging or Natural Color Changes
As bearded dragons age, they may naturally experience a change in color. This can manifest as a darkening or blackening of the skin, especially around the head and neck. This is a natural process and is not a cause for concern.
Remember, every bearded dragon is different and may exhibit different coloring as they age. Make sure you provide your bearded dragon with proper care and nutrition to ensure they are healthy and happy throughout their lifetime. With proper care, your bearded dragon can enjoy a long and healthy life, despite any changes in color.
10. Shedding or Molting
Bearded dragons go through a process called shedding or molting where they shed their old skin and grow new skin underneath. This process is natural and necessary for the growth and development of the bearded dragon.
During the shedding process, a bearded dragon may turn black, especially around the head and tail. The black color is caused by the shedding of the outer layers of the skin, which exposes the new, darker layers underneath.
Shedding is completely normal and nothing to be concerned about. However, Make sure that the bearded dragon has a suitable environment and diet during the shedding process to support healthy growth.
11. Genetic Predisposition
Some bearded dragons may be predisposed to turning black due to their genetics. Genetic predisposition refers to a tendency to develop certain traits or characteristics due to inherited genes.
In the case of bearded dragons, this means that if their parents or ancestors had the gene for turning black, it is likely that they will also exhibit this trait. This is not the same as a disease or illness, but rather a natural variation within the species.
The process of turning black, known as melanism, occurs when the bearded dragon produces an excess of pigment called melanin. Melanin is responsible for the coloration of their skin, scales, and beard.
When a bearded dragon has a genetic predisposition for melanism, they will produce more melanin than usual, causing their skin to turn black. This process is not harmful to the bearded dragon and does not impact their overall health.
If you are considering adopting a bearded dragon, it is important to research the genetics of the animal and understand the potential for melanism. By understanding this genetic predisposition, you can better care for your bearded dragon and ensure that they live a happy and healthy life.
Bearded dragons require access to sunlight in order to maintain good health, but they can also be prone to sunburn if they are exposed to excessive heat. Sunburn can cause bearded dragons to turn black.
Sunburn occurs when a bearded dragon’s skin is directly exposed to intense sunlight for an extended period of time. This can cause the skin to become damaged, leading to inflammation and pigment changes that can cause the skin to turn black.
13. Exposure to Toxins or Chemicals
Bearded dragons, like many other reptiles, have a very sensitive respiratory system. When they are exposed to toxins or chemicals, their bodies may react by turning black as a defense mechanism. This blackening is caused by the release of melanin, a pigment found in the skin, which helps to protect the reptile from harmful substances.
There are several potential sources of toxins or chemicals that could cause a bearded dragon to turn black. These could include pesticides, cleaning products, or other chemicals that are present in the environment.
In some cases, exposure to these substances may occur through ingestion or inhalation, while in other cases it may be through skin contact.
Bearded dragons are not the only reptiles that may turn black due to exposure to toxins or chemicals. Other species may also exhibit this behavior, as it is a common defense mechanism found in many reptiles.
If you suspect that your bearded dragon has been exposed to toxins or chemicals, it is important to seek medical attention as soon as possible.
14. Side Effect of Certain Medications
Sometimes bearded dragons may turn black due to the side effect of certain medications. This phenomenon is caused by a chemical reaction in the bearded dragon’s body when they are given certain medications.
Medications may contain ingredients that interact with the bearded dragon’s natural pigmentation, resulting in their scales turning black.
This change in color is typically temporary and will resolve once the medication is no longer being given.
This change in color is not harmful to the bearded dragon and is simply a cosmetic side effect. However, it is important to carefully follow the instructions of a veterinarian or other qualified professional when administering any medications to your bearded dragon to ensure their safety.
15. Genetic Mutations or Abnormalities
Bearded dragons can sometimes turn black due to genetic mutations or abnormalities.
Genetic mutations occur when there is a change in an organism’s DNA. These changes can affect the way an organism looks or behaves.
In the case of bearded dragons, genetic mutations can cause the color of their scales to change to black. This is a result of a change in the pigment cells that produce color in the skin.
Abnormalities can also cause bearded dragons to turn black. These abnormalities can be caused by a variety of factors, including environmental factors, nutrition, and health issues.
For example, if a bearded dragon is not getting enough sunlight or is experiencing stress, they may develop black patches on their skin. Similarly, if a bearded dragon is not getting the right nutrients or is suffering from a health issue, they may also develop black patches.
In either case, a bearded dragon turning black due to genetic mutations or abnormalities is not a cause for concern. These changes do not affect the health or well-being of the bearded dragon and are simply a result of natural variation in the population.
It’s common for bearded dragons to turn black after they have brumated. This is because they are adjusting to longer daylight hours and getting their appetite back after being in a deep sleep. This process can take several days or weeks, so it’s important to give your dragon time to transition back to their normal selves. Try not to disturb them too much during this time.
Beardies are intelligent creatures. If they are feeling lonely and want some attention or the chance to play outside, they will change the color of their neck to black in order to get your attention.
If your beardy does this when it’s in its habitat or after you’ve ignored it for a while, it’s probably trying to let you know it wants your attention. If you think this might be the reason your beardy is changing color, consider taking it out of its tank and giving it some cuddle time.
Is it Normal for Bearded Dragon to Turn Black?
Bearded dragons are known for their ability to change their coloration on different parts of their body, such as the neck, head, tail, stomach, chest, back, or all over. These color changes are completely normal and not a cause for concern.
While it is expected for bearded dragons to experience color changes, it is important to pay attention to the circumstances surrounding these changes. The reason for the color switch can be due to internal factors or external factors related to the animal’s environment. It is up to the owner to understand why their bearded dragon may have suddenly changed to black.
In conclusion, bearded dragons turning black can be a natural part of their aging process or a result of environmental factors. It is important to provide your bearded dragon with the proper care and environment to prevent them from turning black and to monitor their health. Consult with a veterinarian if you notice any changes in your pet’s color or behavior.
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- Mader, D. R. (2006). Reptile medicine and surgery (2nd ed.). St. Louis, MO: Saunders Elsevier.
- Clifton, K. (2010). Bearded dragons: A complete guide to Pogona vitticeps. New York, NY: Barron’s Educational Series.