All About Bearded Dragons: Lizards of the Desert

Leave a comment / / Updated on: 11th November 2023

NameBearded dragonsDietOmnivorous
Scientific namePogonaWeight400 grams (14 ounces)
Pronunciationbeer-duhd dra-gnLength51 to 60 centimeters (20 to 24 inches)
ClassificationReptilia, Squamata, & AgamidaeLocationAustralia 

The Bearded Dragon

Gage Beasley's Bearded Dragon Stuffed Toy
Gage Beasley’s Bearded Dragon Stuffed Toy

The name “bearded dragon” may conjure up images of a massive fire-breathing monster. 

But the Pogona looks more like a regular lizard than an actual dragon. 

It does have some dragon-like attributes, like the armor of spiny scales that cover most of its body (especially the head). 

The most prominent part of this lizard’s spiny armor is the flap of skin under its chin (born) from which it earned its name. 

The bearded dragon can puff its beard when threatened to intimidate an attacker. 

The bearded dragon is native to Australia, where it is mainly found on rocks and broken tree branches in the eastern and southern parts of the continent. 

Due to its status as an exotic pet, the Pogona is also found in other continents, where it is kept as a pet. 

The Pogona is a fascinating creature that can be intimidating when it needs to be. 

In this article, we’ll discuss some of the most interesting facts about this aggressive little monster, including its habitat, habits, and significance.

Taxonomy and Classification

bearded dragons
Close up of Bearded Dragon | fotografixx via Getty Images

Bearded dragons are a group of lizards in the Pogona genus. 

There are six valid species recognized in this genus. 

The most popular ones include:

  • Pogona vitticeps (also known as the inland bearded dragon).
  • Pogona barbata (eastern bearded dragon).
  • Pogona minor (the western bearded dragon). 

All species of bearded dragons are native to Australia. 

The Pogona is a squamate reptile, which means it is closely related to lizards, snakes, and worm lizards (amphisbaenians).

Within the squamate family, it belongs to the family Agamidae, commonly referred to as dragon lizards. 

bearded dragons
Central bearded dragon (Pogona vitticeps), also known as the inland bearded dragon | wrangel via Getty Images

Bearded dragons belong to the Amphibolurinae subfamily within the family Agamidae. 

Most members of this subfamily are native to Australia and New Guinea. 

Protodraco, a small lizard that evolved during the mid-Cretaceous Period, is the oldest agamid in the fossil record. 

This was about 99 million years ago. 

Bearded dragons are known for their distinctive scaly armor, which serves the primary function of regulating body temperature. 

This feature is probably an adaptation to the arid and semi-arid environments of Australia, where they are found. 

Gage Beasley's In-Demand Plush Toys
Gage Beasley’s In-Demand Plush Toys

Physical Characteristics

bearded dragons
Look at it closely, won’t you? | Chris Gordon via Getty Images

The different species of bearded dragons are adapted to diverse ecosystems across Australia. 

This has given rise to subtle differences in their overall appearance. 

Generally, the bearded dragon is a small to medium-sized lizard with a broad triangular head and flattened body. 

Males grow to an average length of about 60 centimeters (24 inches), while females measure about 51 centimeters (20 inches).

Clusters of spiny scales cover the entire body of this lizard. 

The most prominent of these scales is found around the lower jaws of this lizard. 

The scales appear very spiky, but they’re actually quite rubbery. 

The spiked appearance of this lizard makes them look unappealing to predators.

When threatened, the bearded dragon can also puff its beard and its entire body to make the spikes look even more dangerous. 

bearded dragons
The limbs of bearded dragons | Chris Gordon via Getty Images

Like other agamid lizards, bearded dragons have four well-developed limbs with a sprawling stance. 

Each limb of the Pogona has five clawed toes. 

The robust limbs of this lizard allow it to move with agility both on the ground and when climbing.

They have a prehensile tail, which is as long as the rest of the body in most species. 

Bearded dragons are typically gray, orange, brown, or black, with males being naturally brighter colored than females. 

This lizard is also capable of changing its color when it feels threatened. 

Pogona reptiles also change their color in order to regulate their body temperature. 

They’re generally lighter in hot weather and darker when cold.

Habitat and Distribution

The bearded dragon is native to Australia. 

The typical range of this lizard is from the eastern end of the continent to the southern states.

Within these states, bearded dragons live in arid and semi-arid environments. 

The distribution and abundance of the bearded dragons also depend on the species. 

For instance, the eastern bearded dragon is most commonly found in states like Queensland, South Australia, New South Wales, and Victoria. 

The dwarf, or western bearded dragon, on the other hand, is more abundant in Western Australia and the western half of South Australia. 

bearded dragons
Western Bearded Dragon | AL-Travelpicture via Getty Images

Some species, such as the Abrolhos dwarf bearded dragon, have an even smaller range, with their distribution limited to a few islands off the coast of Western Australia.

In the regions where these lizards are found, they prefer warm and arid areas but also live in savannas, tropical woodlands, deserts, and scrublands.  

The Pogona is a semi-arboreal species. 

It can climb tree stumps, fence posts, boulders, and other elevated platforms to bask in the sun. 

Being able to climb like this also makes it easier for the bearded lizard to watch out for predators, prey, or mates. 

Behavior and Social Structure

bearded dragons
Close-up of an Eastern bearded dragon in the wild | tracielouise via Getty Images

Bearded dragons are active terrestrial lizards.

They’re pretty agile and capable of sprinting, climbing, or scaling trees with ease. 

Like most agamid lizard species, bearded dragons are diurnal. 

This means they’re more active during the day than at night. 

Their daily routine typically involves basking in the sun to raise their body temperature and foraging for food. 

Bearded dragons are not known for long-distance migration. 

However, they may move within their home range, searching for food, water, or suitable basking spots. 

They may also move around over short distances in response to seasonal changes.

They’re more active in the mornings and late afternoons, while the hottest parts of the day are often spent hiding in shelters to avoid overheating. 

Bearded dragons change their behavior during extreme seasons. 

In colder months, they enter into a state of hibernation known as brumation.

bearded dragons
A bearded dragon sleeps on the bricks of a fireplace | Photogirl via Getty Images

During this period, the Pogona can go several months without eating but may drink water sporadically. 

This lizard tends to burrow underground and may go dormant when the temperature is too hot. 

Bearded dragons are territorial and aggressive, especially during the breeding season or when resources like basking sites and food are limited. 

They may defend their territory through aggressive displays, including head-bobbing, throat-puffing, and physical combat.

The Pogona species are solitary animals. 

They do not form complex social structures but may congregate in large groups at suitable basking sites. 

Instead, each adult establishes a territory that may cover a large area with suitable basking sites and foraging areas. 

Even in captivity, adult bearded dragons are typically not kept together except for breeding purposes due to their aggressive nature. 

Bearded dragons are known for their impressive range of communications.

Like many reptiles, the Pogona will hiss aggressively when it feels threatened. 

Apart from vocalizing this way, they communicate by changing their posture color, waving their arms, or bobbing their head. 

bearded dragons
Close-up portrait of an Eastern bearded dragon | Tammy Walker via Getty Images

When bearded dragons congregate at basking sites, they may establish a temporary hierarchy. 

The most dominant animal will bob its head and inflate its beard when challenged by any other Pogona species. 

Dominant males also do this when competing with other males for mating rights. 

Submission is signaled by waving the forearm, but if one of them does not back down this way, it may lead to a fight. 

Bearded dragons also exhibit different types of head-bobbing behavior in different social situations. 

A slow bow by an adult female often signals submission to a male.

On the other hand, a fast bob, especially when combined with an inflated body and blackened head, is used by males to signal dominance. 

Males sometimes bob their entire body violently just before mating, and their color may also change.

Bearded dragons are also intelligent enough to perceive basic illusions. 

They have been known to react specifically to the Delboeuf illusion, an experiment that involves presenting the lizard with two different-sized plates with the same amount of food. 

Bearded dragons tend to go for the smaller plates instead of the large ones in most cases.

This suggests that they’re capable of perceiving that a larger plate does not always mean more food. 

Bearded dragons are the only reptiles known to exhibit this behavior. 

Diet and Feeding

bearded dragons
Bearded dragon on a log munching on yellow flowers | JeannetteKatzir via Getty Images

Bearded dragons are omnivorous lizards.

In the wild, they feed on vegetation, including leaves and fruits. 

They may also prey on small invertebrates such as ants and beetles and small vertebrates like lizards. 

When a Pogona locates food, it opens its mouth and launches its sticky tongue forward to pull the food item into its mouth. 

Their strong jaw muscles are lined with sharp teeth, which can help kill the prey or crush the animal or plant before swallowing it. 

Bearded dragons can drink from a freestanding body of water. 

They have also been observed drinking rainwater directly by standing up on their hind limbs and allowing the water to drip towards their snout. 

Bearded lizards can hold this position for up to 20 minutes. 

Reproduction and Life Cycle

bearded dragons
A male and female bearded dragon seem to be spending some romantic time together | RyanJLane via Getty Images

Bearded lizards are known for their elaborate courtship and mating ritual. 

The male bearded lizard pounds its feet into the ground to get the female’s attention and bobs its head rigorously. 

A receptive female will respond by waving her arms at the male. 

Male Pogona species will also pursue the female and bite her on the neck when mating. 

Mating typically takes place at the end of the brumation period. 

After mating, the female bearded lizard will store sperm from the male in an organ in her body known as the oviductal crypt. 

This way, she can lay eggs twice from mating just once. 

Each clutch of eggs can contain between 11 and 30 eggs. 

Female bearded dragons dig a nest hole in the ground to lay eggs. 

bearded dragons
Bearded dragon infant | Derrick Coetzee via Flickr

Once the eggs are laid, they are left unattended, which means the egg depends on natural conditions such as temperature and humidity for incubation. 

Even the sex of the embryo depends on the temperature. 

When the temperature is unusually high (at least above 31 °C (88 °F), developing embryos with male chromosomes will likely grow as females. 

However, this type of temperature-based sex determination does not affect developing embryos with female chromosomes. 

Like other lizard species, female bearded lizards can lay eggs without fertilization. 

Bearded dragon eggs typically hatch after about 60 to 80 days of incubation. 

The hatchlings use an egg tooth to slit the eggshell and emerge. 

They are independent from the moment they hatch and will develop quite rapidly. 

Ecological Role and Interactions

bearded dragons
Bearded dragon while eating a dandelion flower in the sunshine | Claudia Nass via Getty Images

The Pogona is both a predator and an herbivore. 

As a predator, it feeds primarily on insects such as crickets, beetles, and grasshoppers. 

Their presence in a habitat regulates insect population and also helps with nutrient cycling. 

Bearded dragons eat plant materials, including fruits and seeds, as part of their omnivorous diet. 

They contribute to the health of the terrestrial fauna in their ecosystem. 

Their feeding activities may also help with the dispersal of seeds and regeneration of vegetation within their habitat. 

Conservation Status and Threats

bearded dragons
The Dwarf Bearded Dragon on top of the world | Francesco Ricciardi via Getty Images

All species of bearded dragons are listed as least concern on the IUCN Red List of endangered species. 

This means they’re not extinct or at serious risk of extinction in the near future. 

However, it’s important to note that the conservation status of reptile species often varies from one location to the other. 

Also, although their population is generally stable, Pogona may still face local threats due to habitat loss, climate change, and predation, especially by species introduced into their ecosystem by humans. 

Bearded dragons are also collected for the pet trade, which can pressure local populations if collection rates are unsustainable.

To protect bearded lizards, the government of Australia regulates their collection from the wild. 

In some states or territories, a special permit is needed to keep the species as pets. 

Unique Adaptations and Survival Strategies

bearded dragons
Angry Bearded Dragon (Pogona vitticeps), with mouth open and ‘beard’ enlarged | photosbyash via Getty Images

One of the most striking adaptations of the bearded dragons is their unique ability to puff up the skin under their throat, creating a spiky “beard.” 

They use this display as a defensive mechanism to make themselves appear larger and more intimidating when threatened. 

This display can deter potential predators or rivals.

Pogona species have evolved the ability to blend in with their surroundings. 

Their coloration typically includes earthy tones like brown, gray, and reddish-brown, which help them remain inconspicuous in their arid habitats. 

bearded dragons
A colorful Australian eastern water dragon in the wild | tracielouise via Getty Images

This camouflage reduces their visibility to both predators and prey, allowing them to ambush insects and avoid detection by potential threats.

Bearded dragons have well-developed limbs with five clawed toes on each foot. 

These limbs are adapted for both climbing and terrestrial locomotion. 

Their ability to climb is helpful in accessing basking spots on rocks or branches. 

This adaptation also aids in foraging and escaping predators.

Cultural Significance and Human Interactions

bearded dragons
Where are you going, bearded dragon? | LIU YU-AN via Getty Images

Indigenous Australian communities deeply connect to its wildlife, including fascinating reptiles like the bearded dragons. 

Although specific beliefs and traditions relating to these lizards vary from one species to the other, they’re commonly featured in folklore and indigenous art. 

Bearded dragons are also quite popular as exotic pets in Australia and other countries worldwide.

The lizard is relatively easy to care for, which makes them suitable pets for reptile enthusiasts.  

However, the desire to keep them as pets fuels their illegal collection from the wild, which can significantly impact their population in the wild. 

The Pogona is relatively docile. 

A bite from this lizard can cause pain and leave a bruise on the skin. 

However, the bearded dragon typically gives a lot of warning when disturbed and will only bite if it feels cornered or is severely agitated. 

Recent research suggests that bearded dragons have primitive venom glands, but their bite is not particularly dangerous to humans. 

Future Prospects and Research

bearded dragons
The bearded dragon loves its habitat | ozflash via Getty Images

Bearded dragons have many fascinating behaviors that make them potentially attractive to scientific researchers. 

For instance, the bearded dragon’s impressive thermoregulatory ability makes it an essential subject of studies aimed at understanding the impact of rising temperatures on reptiles. 

This research can contribute to our understanding of the effects of climate change on different animal groups (especially ectothermic animals like the Pogona). 

This can help conservationists come up with better strategies to protect their population. 

Although bearded dragons are relatively easy to care for, they’re affected by various diseases in captivity. 

Consequently, much effort is being invested into understanding the diseases that typically affect these lizards.

This knowledge can improve the care and management of pet bearded dragons and contribute to reptile veterinary medicine advancements. 

Bearded dragons are also hosts to various parasites, and studying these parasites is necessary to understand their potential impacts on human health better. 


The bearded lizard is a type of agamid lizard native to Australia. 

It lives in the continent’s arid and subtropical woodlands and interior deserts. 

They’re called bearded dragons because of the fleshy throat (or “beard”), which can be puffed up when the lizard is threatened or stressed. 

The different species of this lizard are found across different locations and ecosystems in Australia. 

They’re also kept as exotic pets because of how easy it is to care for them.

Bearded lizards currently have a stable population in the wild, but they’re threatened by habitat loss, climate change, and other environmental factors. 

They’re also commonly captured illegally for the pet industry. 

Continued research into the habitat preferences, range, and other bearded dragon attributes will contribute to efforts to further protect this species. 


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