What is Bearded Dragon Brumation?
It can be extremely stressful and scary when your usually active dragon becomes lethargic. The worry only intensifies when the lethargic behavior lasts for days instead of hours. Well, it turns out that the cause of your worries could be a very simple and totally natural part of your bearded dragon’s seasonal cycle called Brumation!
Bearded Dragon brumation is a seasonal hibernation in which some cold-blooded animals engage. A bearded dragon’s brumation cycle usually occurs during the winter and involves the reptile slowing its metabolism in order to conserve energy and reduce the chances of starvation. Unlike the constant sleep characteristic of hibernation, animals in brumation will move as needed.
In this simple guide to Brumation, I’m going to explain:
Bearded Dragon Brumation Explained
Bearded dragons actually go into their own sort of hibernation, called Brumation. During brumation the dragon’s activity level drops drastically and they barely eat or drink. Their breathing also slows down considerably.
This is a totally natural process. In their natural habitat, bearded dragons would go through seasons where the weather would get colder and food would be sparse.
Less sunlight would also mean that it’s tougher for bearded dragons to digest the small amount of food that they are able to hunt down and eat. This is because the UVB rays and heat from the sun assist bearded dragons in processing food and absorbing valuable nutrients.
In addition to those feeding challenges, bearded dragons get most of their hydration from dew on the various items in their environment and not still water. During the cold months, the dew on items and the surface of small streams would turn to ice and therefore not be as easy to consume.
This adds up to bearded dragons having stretches of time where they burrow into the ground and slow down their metabolism so that they can survive with minimal food and water.
Do All Bearded Dragons Brumate?
Not all captive bearded dragons brumate, but instinct still causes some to engage in brumation. Their brumation doesn’t seem to have much to do with how well you’ve taken care of your dragon. However, a colder than usual environment could possibly play a part in prompting it.
When Do Captive Bearded Dragons Enter Brumation?
A good thing to note is that the timing of brumation can be quite random. Some dragons end up going through brumation during the winter, whereas others will go through brumation in the summer months.
Brumation can last for a few weeks or several months, and a bearded dragon might brumate once every few years. Also, a bearded dragon might never go through brumation. You can see how this can be confusing for owners.
Another thing to note is that brumation appears to usually be timed in order to conserve energy and increase hormone levels for the mating season. Therefore during brumation, females will ovulate and males will have an increase in their sperm.
At What Age Does A Bearded Dragon Start Going Into Brumation?
Usually, a bearded dragon won’t go into brumation until they are at least 12 months old. Younger bearded dragons can technically brumate, but they might not have enough nutritional reserves to support a period of brumation. A baby bearded dragon should not go into brumation.
Going into brumation too early, at best, could drain your juvenile bearded dragon of vital nutrients that it would need to develop at a normal rate. At worst, the bearded dragon could become severely ill.
A vet can confirm if your young bearded dragon is ready for brumation.
Preparing for Brumation
Exotic Vet Checks
It’s extremely important to take your dragon to the vet for regular checkups. This could prevent your dragon from going into brumation with a condition that could worsen while they are in their dormant state.
A health issue during brumation could result in massive vet bills due to your dragon needing constant checkups and help getting their nutrients. Also, regular vet visits give you a great idea of what your bearded dragon’s health baseline is so that you can better recognize signs of health issues.
If you notice that your bearded dragon has lost more than a few grams of weight during their brumation cycle, then they might be dealing with an illness. One of the most common issues that causes an unhealthy amount of weight loss during brumation is parasites.
Parasites will feed off of the food in the dragon’s digestive tract as well as the dragon’s fat stores, which results in a massive loss of weight and lack of vital nutrients. This combination can open the door for other illnesses to affect your bearded dragon.
Even if you have taken the correct precautions before brumation begins, you should still be wary of weight loss during brumation. Weigh your bearded dragon at least once per week.
If you feel that your dragon is losing weight too quickly and know that they have had access to water, then please contact your vet.
Is My Bearded Dragon In Brumation?
Bearded Dragon Brumation Symptoms
Every bearded dragon is different, but I’ve listed a few signs that you can look for that indicate the onset of brumation.
How to Tell If A Bearded Dragon Is In Brumation or Dead
A bearded dragon in brumation can very easily be thought to be dead. You can check to see if your bearded dragon is alive by flipping it over on its side or back. This position is uncomfortable for bearded dragons and most would attempt to move back into their normal position.
The signs of a dead bearded dragon include:
How To Treat Your Bearded Dragon During Brumation
It’s best if you handle your bearded dragon as little as possible during brumation. This is a time for them to rest and having you handle them would add stress.
In the wild, running or fighting is not an option for a bearded dragon in brumation due to them needing to conserve their energy during period. will burrow into the ground or hide in rocks or various holes/caves in their environment during brumation. This is to protect them from weather and predators.
Captive bearded dragons don’t have as many options for burrowing and hiding. Therefore, the captive bearded dragon’s owner will need to provide it with an option to isolate itself and hide in it’s enclosure.
An easy solution is to add one or two “hides” to your bearded dragon’s enclosure. A hide is basically any object that allows your bearded dragon to hide out inside of it. It should block light and allow your bearded dragon to not see and be disturbed by any activity going on outside of its enclosure.
A hide can be anything from a hollow piece of non-toxic wood, to decorative plastic hides from pet stores, to animal skulls and even re-purposed food containers.
You will want to ensure that there is at least one hide located on the cool side of their enclosure. It’s important that the hide box is just large enough for them to fit into without being exposed to enclosure lighting and any activity outside of their enclosure that might visually disturb them.
I would strongly suggest having two hides. Bearded dragons might want to move from into a hot area if they have an active day during their brumation period. Having two hides would allow them to do this while still maintaining a sense of safety and comfort.
The temperature in their cool Hide Box should be around 70°F during the day and around 60°F during the night.
In addition to having hide boxes, you can provide your bearded dragon with a substrate that they are able to burrow into to gain comfort and privacy. This will closely resemble what they would do in the wild.
Excavator Clay or Bio-Active Substrates can work well for this.
Excavator clay allows the bearded dragon to dig multiple tunnels with the threat of having the substrate collapse around them. Also, it’s free of toxic chemicals and doesn’t have loose particles once it hardens.
A con to this substrate is that it can dry out too much which would mean that your dragon wouldn’t be able to burrow through it. Also, it can develop a bad odor after a long period of use.
Enclosure Lighting (Optional)
If you’re worried about your enclosure lights disturbing your bearded dragon while it’s in brumation, then you can slowly reduce the time that the UVB and Basking lights are on in the enclosure. Do this until the lights are always off.
Gradually turning the lights off is fine, as it’s what would happen in nature. Just make sure to turn the lights back on if your dragon eats or needs to get dry after a bath. Use a CHE bulb to heat the enclosure if you feel that it’s getting too cold.
Your bearded dragon will have a lower appetite than usual while in brumation. This is because during brumation bearded dragons don’t utilize their lights like they usually would and therefore would have more trouble digesting food.
As I’m sure that you can imagine, having undigested food in their system for long periods of time can cause serious health issues. It’s important to let them make the decision on when they need to eat, and not try to force feed them.
If your bearded dragon does eat something, then make sure to place them in an area where they can get adequate exposure to the basking light for proper digestion. Do this every day or so until they have a bowel movement.
Brumation vs Hibernation - Brumation Requires Hydration
Unlike with hibernation, reptiles in brumation still need outside hydration. For captive dragons, it’s up to the owner to ensure that the bearded dragon doesn’t become dehydrated.
A bearded dragon in brumation can gain the proper amount of hydration from a nearby water source, such as a water bowl. They can also take a 20 – 30 minute bath in shallow, warm water.
Keep Water Available
As long as your bearded dragon isn’t showing signs of dehydration, you can keep a small amount of water available in their enclosure for them to drink as needed. Just make sure that the humidity level doesn’t get too high in their enclosure. The proper humidity level is 30 to 40 percent.
Bathe Your Bearded Dragon - 20 to 30 Minute Bath
To be safe, you can give your bearded dragon a 20-30 minute “bath” once a week to allow them to take in water. You can bathe them if they are asleep, just make sure that their head doesn’t fall into the water. This can cause water to enter their mouth and/or nose and cause a respiratory issue or death by drowning.
It’s fine if your bearded dragon’s head goes down for a drink while they are awake. If they don’t wake up to drink, then try another bath in a day or so.
Be careful to dry your bearded dragon off before placing them back into the enclosure. Having them damp and in an unheated area could allow them to get a fungal infection in their scales.
If they are awake, then you can place them in their basking spot and allow them to go back to their hide box when they are ready.
Do I Have A Dehydrated Bearded Dragon?
You can check to see if your dragon is hydrated by pinching their skin. If the skin stays in the form that it was in while between your fingers and slowly goes back into place, then they need hydration.
How To Wake Up A Bearded Dragon From Brumation
Unless it’s an emergency…You Don’t.
Trying to force your bearded dragon to wake up out of brumation can actually extend the period of time that they stay in it. It’s not recommended to disturb them unless there is a medical emergency.
It’s possible that your bearded dragon could run into issues due to an illness or just not having enough nutrients to safely go into brumation. As stated before, baby bearded dragon brumation can be dangerous for the health of your bearded dragon.
I would suggest contacting an exotic reptile vet for the best steps for your bearded dragon’s situation. If you are in a dire situation and don’t have access to a vet, then you can attempt to increase the time that their lights stay on to simulate a change in season.
After Care - What to do After Brumation
After brumation, your bearded dragon will most likely be full of energy, but still won’t want to be bothered. They also will probably very slowly ramp up their appetite.
You can offer them food in their enclosure at their usual feeding times and scale things up as their hunger grows. Again, don’t force eating. Also, make sure to dust food with calcium as needed.
You should follow the usual technique for picking up your bearded dragon. Approach them slowly and scoop them up from below while supporting all of their legs and the base of their tail.
Make sure that you’re not leaning over them because bearded dragons have a parietal eye on the top of their head which triggers a fight or flight response when it senses anything causing a shadow overhead. Block the front of the bearded dragon’s face until you are sure that it won’t attempt to run or jump out of your hand/s.
Your bearded dragon might appear more aggressive than usual, with a lot of black beards and head bobbing. This is due to heightened hormone levels. It will pass over the course of a few weeks.
Read more about your Bearded Dragons Third Eye in our article here – Do Bearded Dragons Have A Third Eye?
Thanks for Reading!
I hope that this guide helps to eliminate some of the stress involved with brumation.
Now I want to hear from you:
How was your dragon’s first brumation cycle?
What signs does your bearded dragon show during brumation?
What techniques do you use to make their brumation cycle a lot more comfortable for them?
Let me know by leaving a quick comment.