Bearded Dragons Change Color: More Than Meets the Eye!

The Mystery of Color-Changing Bearded Dragons

Bearded dragons change color to control their body temperature, communicate with other lizards, and regulate their metabolism, digestion, and activity. These color changes can be achieved within seconds to minutes.

Bearded dragons, as ectothermic creatures, depend on the ambient environment for the regulation of their internal temperature. Gaining insights into the reasons behind their dynamic color shifts enables us to have a deeper understanding of their overall well-being, care requirements, social conduct, relationship formation, and survival strategies. This knowledge is pivotal in significantly improving the standards of care provided to these pets.

This remarkable ability of bearded dragons to change color has been the subject of various scientific studies, providing insights into their behavior and physiology.

Chromatophores are the Key to Color Changes

Specialized cells called chromatophores are responsible for bearded dragons color changes. Chromatophores are pigment-containing cells found in the skin of many animals, including bearded dragons. These cells contain pigments that can change color in response to different stimuli, such as temperature, light, and stress.

Chromatophores are like tiny bags of paint filled with different colored pigments. When the animal wants to change color, these chromatophores expand or shrink. This change spreads or hides the pigment, allowing the animal to display a range of colors and patterns.

Bearded dragons have two types of chromatophores: melanophores and xanthophores. Melanophores contain black pigment, while xanthophores contain yellow pigment. When bearded dragons are exposed to different stimuli, these chromatophores can expand or contract, causing the skin to change color.

For example, when bearded dragons are exposed to high temperatures, their chromatophores expand, causing their skin to darken. This helps them absorb more heat from the sun and regulate their body temperature. When bearded dragons are exposed to low temperatures, their chromatophores contract, causing their skin to lighten. This helps them reflect more heat from the sun and regulate their body temperature.

In addition, bearded dragons change color in response to stress. When they are stressed, their chromatophores can expand or contract, causing their skin to change color. This is thought to be a way for bearded dragons to communicate with each other and signal their mood or intentions.

In summary, chromatophores are the key to bearded dragon color changes. Chromatophores play a pivotal role in the development of skin and eye pigmentation in animals that rely on external sources of heat, and they originate from the neural crest cells during the embryonic growth stage.

What Triggers Bearded Dragons Color Change?

Bearded dragons change color in response to different stimuli, including temperature, light, and stress. When bearded dragons are exposed to high temperatures, their chromatophores expand, causing their skin to darken. This helps them absorb more heat from the sun and regulate their body temperature.

When bearded dragons are exposed to low temperatures, their chromatophores contract, causing their skin to lighten. This helps them reflect more heat from the sun and regulate their body temperature.

Bearded dragons also change color in response to stress. When bearded dragons are stressed, their chromatophores can expand or contract, causing their skin to change color. This is thought to be a way for bearded dragons to communicate with each other and signal their mood or intentions.

Thermal Regulation: Adapting to Temperature Changes

Thermoregulation involves the balancing of heat absorption and dissipation to keep body temperature at a consistent level. As ectotherms, bearded dragons depend on environmental heat sources to control their internal temperature.

Bearded dragons change color to enable them to either absorb more heat from the sun or reflect more heat to the environment. For example, when they are cold, they tend to turn darker to increase heat absorption, and when they are hot, they tend to turn lighter to reduce heat absorption. By altering their color, they can maintain their ideal internal body temperature, which is vital for their metabolic processes.

Research featured in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B alongside various academic publications has documented the ability of certain species to alter the color of their dorsal surface, shifting from a muted grey to vibrant shades of yellow or even a deep reddish-orange.

Read My Beard-Lizards Change Neck Color to Chat
Scientific American

Social Interactions and Communication

But it’s not all about temperature. Bearded dragons change color to communicate, convey different moods or social status, territoriality, mating preferences, and aggression. For instance, males can display a dark beard to intimidate rivals or attract females, while females can show a pale belly to indicate receptivity or a dark belly to indicate pregnancy.

Vibrant and vivid colors can be displayed during courtship and mating displays to attract partners. They may also change color to avoid physical interaction such as in territorial disputes where they will attempt to intimidate at first rather than enter straight into combat.

Insights from studies conducted by the University of Melbourne have revealed that bearded dragons possess the remarkable ability to localize their color transformation to distinct sections of their body. This capability is adapted to serve dual purposes: to regulate their body temperature and to communicate within their social environment.

Camouflage: Blending with the Environment

In the wild, survival often depends on the ability to hide from predators or ambush prey. Bearded dragons change color to match their surroundings. This form of camouflage is a key survival strategy, allowing them to remain undetected in their natural habitat. By blending into their environment, they can avoid detection from predators and increase their chances of capturing prey.

Health and Mood Indicators

Mood is also related to bearded dragon color change. They can express their emotions through their skin color, such as fear, stress, excitement, or relaxation. For example, when they are scared, they may turn pale or dark, and when they are relaxed, they may show bright or vivid colors.

Bright and vibrant colors typically signify a healthy and content dragon, while darker colors might suggest stress or illness.

Sudden or drastic changes in color can be a warning sign for owners to check on their pet’s health or environmental conditions. This aspect of color change is especially important for pet owners, as it provides a non-invasive way to monitor the well-being of their pets.

Growth and Development

As bearded dragons grow, their color can change due to natural developmental processes. Color changes can accompany growth phases and shedding cycles. During these times, their color might vary temporarily, reflecting the physiological changes they are undergoing. Understanding this can help pet owners recognize the normal growth patterns of their bearded dragons.

Health Connection: What Does a Color Change Indicate?

Not all color changes are good. If your bearded dragon is consistently showing darker colors or is not changing color as it used to, this might be a cause for concern. Persistent dark colors can be a sign of stress or illness. If you notice these changes, it’s important to review their living conditions and consult a veterinarian if necessary.

Creating the Perfect Habitat for Colorful Living

Temperature and Lighting

Alongside diet, UVB light plays a significant role in the health and coloration of bearded dragons. UVB helps them synthesize vitamin D3, essential for calcium absorption. A well-nourished dragon under appropriate UVB lighting tends to have better overall health and potentially more vibrant colors.

Diet and Nutrition

The color of lizards is determined by various factors, including genetics, environment, and diet.

According to a study by Lailvaux (2020), the color of lizards can be influenced by the quality and quantity of food they consume. For instance, the green coloration of green anole lizards is influenced by the amount of carotenoids in their diet.

Carotenoids are pigments that are found in various fruits and vegetables and are important for maintaining healthy skin, vision, and immune system. Therefore, consuming a diet that is rich in carotenoids can help lizards maintain their green coloration.

Information published by Shawkey and Nicolai in the Human Frontier Science Program, found that the color of lizards can also be influenced by the quality of their diet. Lizards that were fed a high-quality diet had brighter and more vibrant colors than those that were fed a low-quality diet. This suggests that the quality of food that lizards consume can have a significant impact on their coloration.

Consuming a diet that is rich in carotenoids can help lizards maintain their green coloration, while the quality of food that lizards consume can have a significant impact on their coloration. Maintaining the coloration of lizards is important for their survival, as it can help them blend in with their surroundings and avoid predators.

There is no scientific research at this point that gives evidence specifically about bearded dragons change color due to diet. However, as shown above, studies on other reptiles have shown that diet can influence pigmentation. Based on that there is an assumption that the same is true for bearded dragons.

Do Bearded Dragons Change Color Depending on Location?

Research has shown that geographic location can influence the color-changing abilities of bearded dragons. Dragons from different regions may exhibit variations in color change, which could be an adaptation to their specific environmental conditions.

Further studies suggest that these color changes have evolved over time, allowing bearded dragons to adapt to various habitats and climates. This evolutionary aspect is a testament to the remarkable adaptability of these creatures.

Bearded Dragons Change Color Due to Seasonal Variation

A recent study by Fan et al. (2017) investigated how bearded dragon color change varies seasonally and how it affects their thermoregulation and camouflage. The researchers measured the skin reflectance of 21 bearded dragons in different seasons and under different light and temperature conditions. They also analyzed the background color of their natural habitat and the thermal properties of their skin.

The results showed that bearded dragons change color more rapidly and extensively in winter than in summer. This is because they need to adjust their body temperature more frequently and efficiently in winter, when the ambient temperature is lower and more variable. By changing color, they can optimize their heat exchange with the environment and maintain their preferred body temperature.

The study also found that bearded dragons change color more accurately and consistently in summer than in winter. This is because they need to match their background color more precisely and reliably in summer, when the vegetation is more abundant and diverse. By changing color, they can improve their camouflage and reduce their predation risk.

The researchers concluded that bearded dragons have a remarkable ability to change color that varies seasonally according to their thermoregulatory and camouflage needs. They suggested that this ability may have evolved as a result of the complex and dynamic environment that bearded dragons inhabit, where they face multiple challenges and trade-offs.

Wrapping Up: Embracing Bearded Dragons Color Changes

In conclusion, the ability of bearded dragons to change color is a multifaceted trait that serves various purposes, from thermal regulation and social interaction to camouflage and health monitoring. For pet owners, understanding these reasons is fascinating and vital in providing proper care and creating a nurturing environment for these unique reptiles.

References

Lailvaux, S. P. (2020b). It’s Not Easy Being Green: Behavior, Morphology, and Population Structure in Urban and Natural Populations of Green Anole (Anolis carolinensis) Lizards. Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution, 8.

Nijboer, J. (2023, December 5). Nutrition in reptiles. MSD Veterinary Manual.

Shawkey, M. D., and Nicolai, M. How lizards change their colour | Human Frontier Science Program. (n.d.).

Knight, Kathryn. (2017) Bearded dragons colour match their home territory Journal of Experimental Biology.

Nicolaï, M. P. J., D’Alba, L., Goldenberg, J., Gansemans, Y., Van Nieuwerburgh, F., Clusella-Trullas, S., & Shawkey, M. D. (2021). Untangling the structural and molecular mechanisms underlying colour and rapid colour change in a lizard, Agama atra. Molecular Ecology, 30(9), 2262-2284

Smith, K. R., Cadena, V., Endler, J. A., Porter, W. P., Kearney, M. R., & Stuart‐Fox, D. (2016). Colour change on different body regions provides thermal and signalling advantages in bearded dragon lizards. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 283(1832), 20160626.

Bearded dragons change colour on different body parts for social signals and temperature regulation. (2016, June 9). University of Melborne, Newsroom.

Fan, M., Stuart-Fox, D., & Cadena, V. (2014). Cyclic Colour Change in the Bearded Dragon Pogona vitticeps under Different PhotoperiodsPLoS ONE9(10), e111504.

Cadena, V., Smith, K. R., Endler, J. A., & Stuart-Fox, D. (2017). Geographic divergence and colour change in response to visual backgrounds and illumination intensity in bearded dragonsThe Journal of Experimental Biology220(6), 1048–1055.

Cadena, V., Rankin, K., Smith, K. R., Endler, J. A., & Stuart-Fox, D. (2017). Temperature-induced colour change varies seasonally in bearded dragon lizards. Biological Journal of the Linnean Society, 123(2), 422–430. 

A Bearded Dragon Displays Its True Colors On Its Neck Or Back. (2016, June 16). Asian Scientist Magazine.

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