Suddenly Aggressive Bearded Dragon [reasons & how to fix]

Are Bearded Dragons Aggressive?

While bearded dragons are typically known for their docile and friendly demeanor towards keepers, they can sometimes transform into an aggressive bearded dragon, showing signs of aggression or discomfort. This change can be attributed to factors like stress, illness, or environmental changes.

It’s crucial to recognize these signs for maintaining a healthy bond with these reptiles. Aggression in bearded dragons is more than just hostility; it’s a complex mixture of behaviors and postures, deeply connected to their social dynamics. Understanding this behavior is key to handling an aggressive bearded dragon effectively.

Teodoro is in no mood lol – Justin Peter ☝️😤🚫😂❤️✔️

Posted by Bearded Dragons World on Monday, May 16, 2016

They Dynamics of Bearded Dragon Fights

Brattstroms (1971) conducted research that went into some detail on bearded dragon fight sequences. It was shown that bearded dragons display more variability in their behaviors for fighting than they do in their defensive behaviors.

Fight sequences often involve a combination of threat displays, bowing down, challenging approaches, beard out, and flattening of the body. During these interactions, the bearded dragons might tilt and turn their heads, engage in face-offs, and in more intense situations, even resort to physical contact, such as biting.

The nature and outcome of these fights are influenced by several factors: the size of the individual dragons, the thermal environment, and the surrounding social context. The results of these confrontations play a significant role in establishing the social hierarchy within a group. Dominant individuals reinforce their status through these aggressive interactions. In contrast, subordinate bearded dragons often exhibit submissive behaviors – such as submissive waves, slow bobs, or a flattened posture – to signal the end of a fight.

Additionally, color changes are observed during these interactions; bearded dragons show increased color contrast during the height of aggression and tend to darken, particularly if they are in a subordinate position, at the fight’s conclusion.

Solitary Creatures are a Cohabitation Risk

Bearded dragons, known for their solitary nature, are generally unsuitable for cohabitation in captivity due to the risk of injury and competition. Mature males exhibit aggression, particularly during breeding season, and can harass females, while females tend to be territorial yet more tolerant and may form a hierarchy.
In juvenile bearded dragons, common health issues include nutritional secondary hyperparathyroidism and injuries resulting from cage-mate aggression (Raiti, 2012).

How do you know if your Bearded Dragon is Angry?

When a bearded dragon is angry it will respond in varying degrees dependent on the threat. Responses to threats may include:

  1. Hissing,
  2. rapid head bobbing,
  3. Rapid arm waving,
  4. body flattening and may extend to tilting its body in the direction of the threat,
  5. puffing out the beard,
  6. Darkening its beard,
  7. showing the yellow lining of its mouth, and
  8. raising its tail.

Displays are carefully sequenced and largely depend on the intensity of the perceived threat. If the threat does not take heed of the display and leave then it is likely that a fight will ensue.

A bearded dragon also communicates when feels the need to defend itself. Research by Brattstrom (1971) was able to identify that male bearded dragons tend to exhibit more structured and intense defensive displays compared to females. These can include a range of postures – from puffing out the beard, opening the mouth to display the yellow lining, flattening the body, to turning the head to the side when facing a threat. These actions are multifunctional: they act as defensive mechanisms and also as a way to assert dominance or challenge potential rivals.

Causes of Aggression

Bearded Dragon Suddenly Aggressive

6 reasons a bearded dragon may suddenly become aggressive:

  1. Chronic stress (Benn et al, 2019)
  2. Pain
  3. Defence
  4. Accident, especially if the scent of another male bearded dragon is on the hands of the keeper.
  5. The temperature was not appropriate and has changed. A cold bearded dragon will not react the same as a warm one.
  6. Seasonal hormones.

Seasonal Aggression

Some may find their bearded dragon is suddenly aggressive straight after winter, as spring arrives.

When a bearded dragon is suddenly aggressive as spring arrives it is likely to be seasonal aggression. This is more so in males than females and related to sexual maturity, the arrival of mating season. As the bearded dragon seemingly becomes angry it may appear to be mean. On the good side this sudden seasonal aggression is normal and expected to be of short duration.

Brown (2012) answers the question “are male bearded dragons friendly or mean?”. Brown points out that breeding male bearded dragons are not normally aggressive or angry towards their owner and if they are, it is more likely to be bluff.

Sometimes the unusual behaviour may start just before a year old and other times it might not be seen until the bearded dragon hits 4 years old. Aggressive hormonal behaviour is linked to males however, females can also become a little aggressive to a lesser degree.

Seemingly suddenly aggressive bearded dragon related to breeding will often start when it comes out of brumation, or at the beginning of spring. At this time, bearded dragons are ready for mating and hormone levels are up. The aggressive bearded dragon behaviours may last for a couple of weeks or longer.

In iguanas, sudden seasonal aggression is common. Male iguanas can see a male human as a threat to territory and may also try to defend access to human females in the household (Lock, 2018).

Klaphake (UD) documented that in iguana’s impacted femoral pores could potentially be linked to sudden aggression. The evidence may be simply coincidental however, worth observing since impacted pores can cause considerable pain. Klaphake (UD) found that once the femoral pores were relieved the iguana’s behaviours returned to normal. Interestingly, the femoral pores secrete a waxy substance that gives away the most personal secrets. More on that in the post secrets of femoral pores.

Can Scent Cause a Bearded Dragons to be More Aggressive?

Scent may have a significant part to play in aggressive bearded dragon responses. It was once thought that agamid lizards were mostly dependent on visual cues for their social interaction, however others have found that pheromones also have an important role to play (Gans and Crews, 1992).

The role of scent on the aggressive behaviour of the male Iberian wall lizards was studied by Lopez and Martin (cited Norris and Lopez, 2011). The scent of some males familiar with each other were masked with the scent of an unfamiliar male. This resulted in aggressive responses reserved for unknown males. When a male was introduced to another male masked with its own scent or even that of another familiar male, the aggressive responses were less aggressive.

Iguanas have the remarkable ability to sense human hormonal changes, notably in female owners during their menstrual cycles. This skill highlights the complexity of reptilian senses. Both iguanas and bearded dragons feature a vomeronasal or Jacobson’s organ, key to their chemosensory system. This organ detects pheromonal cues, assisting in mate selection and territory recognition in the wild.
This sensory ability also affects how iguanas interact with humans. Research and personal accounts indicate that iguanas can perceive subtle hormonal shifts in women, identifying not only gender differences but also specific stages of the menstrual cycle.

Male iguanas have been observed to alter their behavior in response to their female owners’ menstrual cycles, displaying increased attention or, in some instances, aggression or mating behaviors. This reflects their sharp sensory abilities and adaptation to domestic settings.
It is possible that bearded dragons are able to detect these changes in humans since they also have Jacobson’s organ.

How to Fix an Aggressive Bearded Dragon

Fixing Aggression From Husbandry

An aggressive bearded dragon can cause considerable damage to fingers, or any soft flesh. However, an aggressive bearded dragon can be fixed if the aggression is due to some factor related to the husbandry practices.

  1. Pause Handling: Avoid handling an aggressive bearded dragon until it shows signs of calmness. Use protective barriers like towels during necessary handling.
  2. Employ Taming Methods: Implementing gentle taming techniques can help in reducing the aggressive behavior of bearded dragons.
  3. Limit Co-habitation: Aggressive bearded dragons may react poorly to other animals in their space. Removing other animals can quickly show if this is the cause of agitation.
  4. Eliminate Agitating Scents: Check for and remove any scents in the environment that might be causing stress to the bearded dragon.
  5. Allow Adjustment Time: Give the bearded dragon time to acclimate to new environments, reducing stress-induced aggression.
  6. Redirect Attention: If the bearded dragon displays aggression, like hissing, try to shift its focus to eating by popping an edible leaf in its mouth while it is open.
  7. Handle with Care During Shedding: Recognize that shedding can be a period of increased irritability and potential aggression in bearded dragons. It’s often best to minimize handling during this time.

7 Ways to Manage and Prevent Seasonal Aggressive Bearded Dragon Behaviour

  1. Redirect Energy: While calming an aggressive bearded dragon might be challenging, redirecting their energy can be effective. Offer them a safe, warm object like a microwavable bean bag to interact with.
  2. Minimize Reflective Surfaces: Cover mirrors or reflective surfaces that might make the bearded dragon perceive its own reflection as a rival.
  3. Separate Lizard Habitats: If multiple lizards are in the same area, increasing the distance between their habitats can help reduce aggression.
  4. Adjust Lighting: Modifying the lighting schedule can trick the aggressive bearded dragon into believing it’s not breeding season. Do this with caution since they are dependent on the right temperature and lighting for health and life.
  5. Limit Handling: During periods of aggression, minimize handling to allow the dragon time to calm down.
  6. Avoid Hand-Feeding: Prevent associating your hands with food, which might trigger an aggressive response.
  7. Consult a Veterinarian: Discuss the aggression issue with a vet.

Record the Events

To effectively manage an aggressive bearded dragon, it’s crucial to document instances of biting or aggression meticulously. Note the specific behaviors, dates, and times. Look for patterns in these records and discuss them with your veterinarian to determine the cause and potential solutions. Consider factors like:

  1. The environment and activities around the dragon at the time of the incident.
  2. Clothing colors worn by people in view of the bearded dragon.
  3. The presence of nail polish or specific scents, such as perfumes or odors from the cage.
  4. Any other animals present or having been handled prior to the bearded dragon.
  5. Whether the bearded dragon was inside or outside.
  6. If the aggression occurred within its usual enclosure or territory.
  7. Any reflective surfaces that might have triggered the aggressive bearded dragon.

This thorough approach can help identify triggers and develop strategies to mitigate aggressive bearded dragon behavior.

Experimental Medical Practices to Reduce Aggression

Spaying to Reduce Bearded Dragon Aggression

There’s no conclusive evidence suggesting that castration affects male bearded dragons’ aggression or territorial behavior, and the procedure carries significant risks. As such, neutering male bearded dragons as a routine practice is neither beneficial nor safe.

Drug Experiment to Manage Aggressive Bearded Dragon

A study by Rowland (2013) highlighted the use of a deslorelin implant in a male bearded dragon to curb its increasing aggression.

This six-month-old bearded dragon was acting mean, normally a sweet and beloved pet, had started showing concerning behavior towards its owner. After ruling out health issues, the vets decided to try the deslorelin implant, typically used for inducing temporary infertility in male dogs by lowering testosterone levels.
The result was a significant decrease in aggression, making the bearded dragon more handleable and friendly. This intriguing case opens up new possibilities for managing aggression in reptiles.

This practice isn’t widely recognized, lacks extensive research on potential side effects, and the drug isn’t officially approved for reptile use. While this approach suggests a new method for managing reptilian aggression, further investigation is essential to fully understand its implications and long-term effects on reptile welfare.

Suddenly Aggressive Bearded Dragon Conclusion

In conclusion, managing an aggressive bearded dragon involves understanding its behavior and environmental needs. While bearded dragons are generally docile, factors like stress, illness, or improper husbandry can trigger aggression. Observing signs like rapid head bobbing, body flattening, and beard darkening helps in identifying discomfort. Seasonal aggression, particularly in males, is linked to mating instincts and can be temporary. Treatments like deslorelin implants or spaying are not practical solutions and more research is needed. Ultimately, ensuring a suitable, stress-free environment and proper care is key to maintaining a harmonious relationship and avoiding an aggressive bearded dragon.

Has your bearded dragon become suddenly aggressive? Tell us your story in the comments.

References

  1. Benn, A. L., McLelland, D. J. and Whittaker, A. L. (2019) A Review of Welfare Assessment Methods in Reptiles, and Preliminary Application of the Welfare Quality® Protocol to the Pygmy Blue-Tongue Skink, Tiliqua adelaidensis, Using Animal-Based Measures. Animals (Basel). 9(1): 27.
  2. Brattstrom, B. H. (1971). Social and Thermoregulatory Behavior of the Bearded Dragon, Amphibolurus barbatus. Copeia, 1971(3), 484.
  3. Brown, D. BVSc, BSc (2012) A Guide to Australian Dragons in Captivity. Reptile Publications. QLD Australia
  4. Gans, C., and Crews, D. (1992) Hormones, Brain, and Behavior. Bibliovault OAI Repository, the University of Chicago Press
  5. Klaphake, E. DVM, DACZM, DABVP (Avian Practice), DABVP (Reptile & Amphibian Practice) (UD) Femoral Gland Biology and Possible Medical Concerns in the Green Iguana, Iguana iguana.
  6. Lock, B. A. (2006) Chapter 13 – Behavioral and Morphologic Adaptations. Ed: Mader, D. R. Reptile Medicine and Surgery 2nd Ed. W.B. Saunders. Pages 163-179
  7. Lock, B. (2018) Aggression in Captive Reptiles. Veterinary Partner
  8. Norris, D. O., & Lopez, K. H. (2011) Hormones and Reproduction of Vertebrates Vol. 3. Reptiles. San Diego, CA: Elsevier Academic Press Inc
  9. Raiti, P. (2012). Husbandry, Diseases, and Veterinary Care of the Bearded Dragon (Pogona vitticeps). Journal of Herpetological Medicine and Surgery, 22(3-4), 117–131.
  10. Rowland, M. N. (2013). Use of a deslorelin implant to control aggression in a male bearded dragon (Pogona vitticeps). Veterinary Record Case Reports, 1(1), ed2007.

7 Comments

  1. I have three beardies. Two were for my son and then I got two of my own. We named them after the ninja turtles and unfortunately, Michaelangelo passed away very young. I brought him back to the store when he passed, I only had it two weeks. I explained how I felt I did everything correctly and how the others were prospering just fine. I was so distraught when he passed away, I even tried giving it CPR to revive it. The person at the pet shop said it happens often. It was probably just sick already when I got it they felt. The first two, the ones I got for my son, have their own 40 gallon tanks and the whole hot/cool side. I have the UV bulb, a black heat light so when it’s night time I can leave the blue bulb on with it and heat is still emitted when the main lamp is off. (At night time when my son goes to sleep.) We were told they could be kept together, boy were they wrong! The one, Nacho (a..k.a. Rafael) was very bold and aggressive right from the get go. He was quick to eat and ate well. He hunted with passion and fury. The other one, Nelly (a.k.a. Donnatello) was timid and shy and at first, when we just had the two, I felt like she wasn’t gonna make it. She stopped eating all together and seemed “sad” or “depressed” even. I researched it and asked around at the local pet shops I frequented. Someone suggested taking their water out of the tank, so long as I did this every day-and giving them a bath. The guy said bearded dragons are known for not drinking water but that if I bathed them, they would absorb the water through their skin and it would hydrate them better. That did the trick. It also helped with bowel movements. I now give all three baths, sometimes together, usually not. Nelly and Leo get along and Nelly and Nacho seem to do the mating dance. (They’re the same age while Leo is still about two months younger.) I assumed Nelly is a female and the other two are males. That was until last night. My beardie Leo will sleep with me after nightly bath time. He gets all sleepy and when I wrap him in the towel he often falls asleep in it on my bed under my heated blanket. He will spend the whole night there with me like that. When Nelly was depressed, the baths worked so well but during that time I also bonded with her a lot. She slept with me too. (I didn’t have Leo yet) Nacho is the only one who hasn’t spent the night in my room yet. Last night, I gave all three of them baths and brought them all into my room to see what they would do. Leo fell right asleep as usual. Nelly and Nacho layed under the blanket for a while and then began to stir. They came out from underneath around the same time and then proceeded to do their little mating dance. But they never mate. Nelly whom I always thought was the girl got on top of nacho and was far more aggressive this time. Usually nacho gets on top of her and they fool around without actually doing the nasty. She crawled on top of him and licked his head and almost pushed his face into the bedding. I gently moved her off him. He looked relived. Then he started to wander over to me. Like he wanted me to pet him. I was on the other side of the bed. As he began to walk towards me Nelly got upset and lunged at him as if she were trying to prevent him from being near me. (I’m a female.) When she did that to him, he looked startled and so I lightly pet him to reassure him all was okay. It was a very bad mistake on my part. When I touched him she lunged for me and bit the hell out of my hand. I screamed and she let go. I put it back in its cage as well as nacho. I didn’t punish anyone. I was more shocked at what has just happened more than anything. She did draw blood. My hand hurts a lot and Leo slept through the whole thing. Lol. Does this mean she is not a she? I still don’t know which is what sex. They demonstrate both male and female characteristics. I can’t tell by looking at the pictures online then looking at them. Is the one that bit me always going to be aggressive now? Is it just possessive over the other? I didn’t realize it at the time, otherwise I wouldn’t have touched him. It was only afterwards reflecting on how he did come towards me and she tried to stop him that I realize it was her trying to keep me away from him or him trying to keep me away from her -whatever they are. Leo is still young but not that much younger than them, does it mean that he’s gonna turn into a giant a hole like they are? Or is he going to continue to be as Sweet and cool, the way he is now? They other two are only two months older but have changed drastically-overnight it seems. I’m not miss treating them, I’m not handling them wrong, they get tons of attention, they’re held every day, they get fed daily, they get vegetables daily- if anything, they’re spoiled. I don’t understand the sudden aggression, overnight it seems, and how can I find out what sex they are?

  2. I adopted my 5-year-old full-grown beardie about 3 months ago and he was timid at first but after a couple of weeks, he went with me everywhere then but overnight he became a totally different pet. He started going flinching at every movement and almost twitched at everything he saw move. He started running around his enclosure trying to climb out and showed signs of aggression such as; puffed up, black beard, and mouth gaping and hissing. I’m thinking it’s because spring is coming but I’m worried I did something wrong. He used to be so loving and would cuddle but somehow I feel as if something triggered him to become so aggressive and defensive.

    • It is quite possible it is something to do with the environment. Might not be in his enclosure but something he sees. As much as it could be aggression, they are all signs of fear. Has the temperature got warmer lately? If so, possible that he was cooler before muting his reaction to anything going on and now it is warmer he is able to demonstrate his situation more clearly.

  3. Billy-The-Beared has never been particularly cuddly; but he’s never been this bad! He has a huge tank, with a warm and a cool side, natural branches, two ponds, edible live plants, UVB light, basking light, hiding places and so on. He gets fresh chopped veggies twice a day and about twenty or so mealworms and calci-worms also twice a day. He has grown like a weed and seemed very happy. What am I doing wrong??? He hisses and bites me and no longer likes being handled. Is it brumation? What do I do?

    • So much more to know to be able to provide a useful answer to you. I would suggest hormones may be kicking in and/or he is scared. Fast growth is related to diet. Size determines age more than calendar. This means that a 6 month old bearded dragon can have hormones going mad if it is large enough. Brumation is more likely to create a sleepy, lethargic bearded dragon than angry. Try putting a piece of cloth in the area with your scent over the next week or so and working your way from there, being extra patient. Best of wishes.

    • @Catherine Prillo, Do you feed him Dubai Roaches and hornworms. I know mine love both. I don’t feed crickets because a lot of people say they are nasty and bite the bearded dragon. I hope you can get the help with your bearded dragon. We have a 7 months old bearded dragon who we are still working with taming.

      • Just don’t leave live food in with them and then they won’t be bitten. Great variety of foods is important. Thank you for caring for others.

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