You have just found out that your bearded dragon won’t wake up! It is highly likely that it has gone into the brumation phase. Don’t worry. In this article, you will learn all the basics about bearded dragon brumation in detail.
If this is your first time owning a beardie, then you might constantly find yourself fretting about weird idiosyncrasies and habits of this species that were so far unknown to you. At some point in your ownership of this exotic pet, you have to gain more insights about bearded dragons brumation, so that you can prepare favorable hiding spots for them where they can spend the entire wintertime without being interrupted.
If it is fall or winter season, then your pet lizard is likely to prepare for a long deep sleep. They can hunker down for an entire month during this period.
What is brumation?
In a nutshell, reptilian brumation is considered an equivalent behavior to that of hibernation practiced by most large mammals. When it gets cold mammals also prepare to sleep for a long duration. Unlike mammals that undergo a complete shutdown of their body, the reptiles exhibit a certain degree of dormancy during this period that causes them to bring all the routine physical activities to a halt, such as eating, drinking, and defecating.
In the wild, when the temperature starts to drop below the zero-degree Celsius mark, bearded dragons – including other reptiles, such as tortoises, snakes, and frogs – seek out a warm hideout where they remain dormant and their metabolism goes down to a bare minimum.
When a bearded dragon brumates, it becomes sluggish and its movement becomes limited throughout the cold winter period. You would also notice that your ever-hungry reptile is no more interested in eating any meals throughout the day. This loss of appetite is considered an integral part of the brumation phase.
Even in captivity, your pet reptile might show a sudden refusal of food consumption and would prefer spending most of the day near cold and dark places of their enclosure. This is an innate survival tactic that is hardwired into the brains of these species and they would most likely enter into the brumation state regardless of the temperature range in the atmosphere. So, even if you keep the enclosure of your beardie nice and toasty throughout the year, they might become inactive for a certain timeframe.
What Is Bearded Dragons Brumation ?
You will likely notice this survival tactic adopted by dragons that have reached full maturity age, but younger counterparts might also exhibit this technique when their biological clock takes over them and tells them to go into a state of minimal physical exertion. Sickly beardies should not undergo brumation, as it might be difficult for their bodies to come out of the dormant phase after shutting down. You need to ensure that your pet is in prime physical shape and doesn’t suffer from any chronic illnesses before it starts searching for its hibernaculum.
In the spring season, the days start getting longer than the nights and the barometric pressure changes. During this time, these temperate lizards crawl out of their burrows. They start feeding again at the same pace to replenish all their nutritional reserves. Their bodies can get depleted of nutrition during the hibernation period.
Why do bearded dragons brumate?
As ectothermic creatures, beardies cannot regulate their internal body temperature independently of the surrounding climate conditions, and they can’t adjust to preferred heat levels within their internal system when they are met with adverse weather situations.
During brumation, not only do reptiles completely abandon their regular eating pattern but they also undergo several physiological changes. A sudden decline in their respiratory rate helps them utilize limited energy stored in the body. Their digestion system would also completely stop during this phase. Their body enters into starvation mode that helps burn fat reserves for energy consumption.
This “suspended animation” slows down their metabolism. This ensures that they don’t end up burning energy at a regular rate. If they don’t do it, then it can drastically reduce their body weight and shrink them in size.
Brumation serves as a survival strategy in the wild for bearded dragons and other reptiles. During the time of the year, food and water resources become scarce. They have been doing this for millions of years to survive against all the odds of climate. It acts as a secret recipe to the ancient roots of this species.
Why do beardies brumate in captivity?
The deep-rooted survival instincts of bearded dragons cause them to adopt similar hibernation behavior like that of their wild counterparts. They might still brumate notwithstanding the availability of a steady source of food and a toasty habitat. This instinctive behavior is hardwired into this species for survival purposes. Despite the fact that they have been domesticated for a few decades they still show their wild instincts. This ancient lizard species doesn’t completely abandon its survival strategies that have been passed on by generations.
Usually, in captivity, your bearded dragon would shrink down the dormancy period because of the heated indoor temperature of their enclosure – which can potentially make them think that the spring season has started and they can finally go back to their normal feeding routine.
Also, your bearded dragon’s digestive system functions properly when its skin gets exposed to direct sunlight for a specific period. So, during the winter season when there is minimal sunlight exposure, your beardie would refuse to gulp down on his favorite treats because of the lack of sunlight out there.
So your bearded dragon might still enter into this ultra-survival mode even if you take good care of its diet. It is not dependent on its diet but it is mainly influenced by the changes in the environment. This instinctive behavior promotes longevity of bearded dragons and also improves their reproductive health. One survey even found out that males that go into this system shutdown in extremely cold climate regions are likely to have more potent sperm cell production, which in turn would cause them to end up with more hatchlings towards the end of each breeding season.
Top signs your bearded dragon is gearing up for brumation
When your little bearded friend starts prepping up for the shutdown phase there are various tell-tale signs that can tell that he or she is ready to brumate.
This will help you make preparations ahead of time so that you can set up a favorable hibernaculum for them where they can lie dormant during the chilly weather days.
Just keep in mind that they are likely to participate in this instinctual activity once they are at least 1 year old and will be repeating the same cycle on an annual basis.
Signs that your bearded dragon might be getting ready to brumate or already doing it are:
Little activity and lots more sleeping
You may notice that your beardie suddenly becomes uninterested to mobilize or move their body; they would also completely abandon their favorite basking spot in the enclosure, as they would retreat to darker and shaded areas that would allow their bodies to cool down.
In Australia and other temperate climate regions, this lizard species has a tendency to dig burrows in the sand. It also makes hiding spots under dead leaves. So, you might want to provide favorable substrate in their tank, like pebbles and gravel, which they can conveniently be dispersed with their tiny limbs.
Your cuddly lizard would suddenly no more desire your attention and you would notice that they would easily become agitated when you try handling them according to the normal routine.
During this period, the herpetoculturists must leave their pet reptiles on their own, as would have fewer chances of triggering a stress response – which can potentially disrupt their entire sleeping cycle.
During the winter season, the orientation of Earth’s tilt towards the sun goes through a variation, which causes it to drift way for that time of the year.
The sun emits less amount of ultraviolet radiation during this season. The digestive system of bearded dragons faces an inhibition when the sunlight is restricted during the day.
So, even if you provide your beardie with the most delicious of treats and food items, they would still not have the usual appetite for meals. As soon as they start entering into the main phase of the hibernation cycle they would completely abstain from food consumption.
You would also notice that your dragon would retreat to the coolest part of their enclosure rather than relaxing in the basking spot as usual.
It is highly important to install suitable tank décor and hiding shells where your pet reptile can hide, as that would make them feel like home.
Since your beardie is skipping on meals, naturally this would also affect their poop schedule, and they would slowly stop defecating altogether. You should not confuse it with impaction (constipation), as it is a natural process that isn’t linked with any kind of intestinal problem.
Please note: you might want to have a fecal test done to your exotic lizard before the brumation season because the signs mentioned above can also be linked with various parasitic and gastrointestinal diseases.
There are various symptoms that you should watch out for, as they can be indicators of an underlying health issue and infection, such as Coccidiosis. This illness is caused when the natural amount of Coccidia – parasites living in the intestinal walls of bearded dragons – exceeds due to a stress factor in the external environment.
Do bearded dragons eat during brumation?
If a beardie is in its true brumation, then it does not need to be fed because their metabolism would be way too slow to handle the food entering from the esophagus and it would likely stay in the gastrointestinal tract to rot – which can be hazardous for the health of your dragon.
A dragon with a full belly should not be staying dormant for a long time, as that would greatly affect their overall digestive system – which in turn can cause them to lose weight dramatically.
However, if you notice that your dragon is getting lighter in weight over time, then you might want to provide them with a light and fresh meal that would replenish their depleted nutritional sources. Once thoroughly fed, you would need to turn the UVB rays and photoperiod back to the normal routine for a few days so that they can properly digest the food and pull the nutrition out of the ingested meal before going back to sleep.
How long does brumation last?
The time duration for your pet lizard to brumate can be dependent on various factors, such as the species, gender, age, and the overall humidity in the air around them.
In the wild, they are likely to go into the deep sleep for up to 4 to 5 months, as the food resources are not readily available in their chosen habitat and the sunlight is not sufficient enough for them to thoroughly digest the ingested food.
The duration of the brumation of captive bearded dragons can be affected by various factors. If the indoor temperature remains unchanged throughout the year, then your beardie won’t brumate for a long period. This is mainly altered because the indoor temperature doesn’t stay synchronized to the temperature outside. This would give a false alarm to the sleeping lizard that the fall season has ended and it can finally start the feeding frenzy like the old days.
You can never fully ensure the actual number of weeks or months your reptile might dose off. They can even enter into the brumation phase several times in a given year.
How to know if a Bearded Dragon is Sick, Dead, or in Brumation?
Many beginners tend to confuse the brumation period of their bearded lizards with some kind of illness or death. They always seem to apprehensive as soon as they detect an odd behavior of their pet lizard, as there are lots of habits that have so far been unknown to them.
One of the surefire differences between illnesses and brumation is that the former condition would cause your dormant lizard to lose weight tremendously as they desist from any oral consumption of food. It is highly important to have constant access to an accurate digital weighing scale – which can give small measurements. If you notice that your beardie is becoming scrawny, then you should take it to a reliable vet to get it checked.
Various indicators would tell whether your pet dragon has passed away or is still alive. Usually, you should be able to tell a dead thing apart from a living one, as there are obvious signs of immobility and discoloration that can be spotted from a significant distance. A dead reptile would quickly lose its original pigment as soon as the phenomenon of rigor mortis kicks in – which causes the corpse to become stiff and rigid . Because of the scaly skin of the lizard, it would almost become impossible to get to know about the heartbeat using a stethoscope.
Testing Bearded Dragons for Brumation
It isn’t easy for a first-time owner to tell whether their bearded dragon is inactive brumating or has passed away. Most of the symptoms can appear similar to the untrained eye.
You can also try placing your tiny dragon on its back to see if it struggles to get back on its stomach. If your gal or guy is doing fine, he or she would flip back to an upright position in no time, as a facedown position can be highly uncomfortable for them.
Apart from all the aforementioned possibilities, it is also possible that your bearded dragon pet has just reached the end of its natural lifespan. In the wild, they can survive anywhere from 3 to 4 years of age. On the other hand, their lifespan can be increased if you take proper care of them. If you place them in an incubated environment, then their age can sometimes even exceed above 14 years.
Best Tips for a healthy brumation
As soon as the winter season kicks in, you should be on the lookout for any cues that might indicate that your bearded dragon is slowly becoming lethargic day by day. If they don’t seem to be acting in a way that correlates with the basic signs of hibernation, then you should not make any artificial arrangements in their cage that might unnaturally trigger the sleeping cycle. Reptiles in captivity might enter into what we call a pseudo-brumation state. In this mode, they perform all the essential physical activities to a minimal extent.
In order to sustain the health of your dragon throughout the year, you need to make sure that they are in good health and emotional state before brumating.
Here are a few tips for a healthy brumation for your bearded dragon:
Take your beardie to a vet or a herpetologist
Getting your pet thoroughly inspected by a professional herpetologist would eliminate the chances of any diseases that might be triggered as soon as the bearded dragon becomes inactive.
Take a stool sample
Take a poop sample of your pet lizard in a container to the vet, so that they can examine it regarding the presence of potential intestinal worms. Having an excessive amount of parasitic organisms in the fecal matter is seen as an alarming sign. It can potentially cause your beardie to become very skinny towards the end of the brumation cycle.
Prep the beardie’s digestive system
Even though your little reptile has been abstaining from food for a few weeks, you still should provide them favorable UVB lights and heating setup – which would aid their digestive system and excrete any possible fecal matter in the intestinal tract.
Acclimate the bearded dragon to cooler temps
Acclimatization is highly important when a living organism is likely to go through a sharp variation of temperature in any given habitat, as that makes them physically and mentally prepared to ward off the deteriorating effects of the climate. You should start shutting down the lights and heating setup of the enclosure so that your herp can gradually adjust to the cooler room temperature without getting into a state of shock.
How to care for a bearded dragon during brumation?
Whilst this species has evolved to become self-abundant during the time they enter into the brumation phase, you can still make the entire sleeping experience more relaxing and soothing for them by actively making changes and customizations to their enclosure.
If your scaly pet has already gone into the annual deep sleep routine, then you can still keep track of their health and hygiene in a way that allows you to retain their slumber without causing them any disturbance. When a beardie has been dosing off for a few weeks consecutively, you can predict that they are likely to lose some weight in a gradual manner – most of which comes out of stored fats and calcium reserves.
Whether you have provided a wooden or clay-based hiding box to your mini dragon, it can come in handy if you weight the burrow before allowing your pet to get inside it. By doing so, you would be able to get close estimated weight readings of your pet during the brumation period without waking them up from the sleep.
There are various measures that you can take to care for your brumating dragon.
Lighting and heating
It would not be wise to shut down all the lighting and heating systems straight away as soon as your beardie gets into the brumation phase, as you should slowly acclimatize them so that they can get accustomed to the changes.
Even after the initiation of the brumation process, your pet dragon might still munch on some light snacks during the early phase, and cutting off light sources would not provide them to lie in the basking spot to thoroughly digest food.
Undigested food can put your pet at a serious health risk, as their metabolism slows down during this suspended animation phase – which can sometimes cause a sudden buildup of toxic material from the left off feces in the system.
In the wild, these reptile species have a tendency to dig holes into the ground and cover their small den with sand – which can give them protection against the prowling predators at night. So they can do fine with minimal lighting during the sleep cycle, and you should reduce lighting and temperature is a slow manner.
As a caring herpetoculturist, your aim should be to replicate the indoor enclosure of your pet lizard that resembles closely to the real-life habitat of these lizards in the wild. You can replicate this phenomenon by gradually decreasing the intensity of artificial lighting in their tank, as sun rays become less intense and days become shorter during the winter season.
Allow your beardie to burry itself
In the wild, a bearded dragon would carve a small den-like hole into the ground. It can lie dormant in its hiding spots for an extended period of time. This helps them ward off any potential predators in the area.
These deep burrows not only ward off predators but they can also help them regulate desired body temperature, as they would be less affected by the variations in the external climate conditions.
Make sure to select a substrate type that encourages burrowing behavior and helps them stay underground to preserve their instincts. Whether you choose pebbles and stones or clay as a substrate base, it shouldn’t result in any choking hazard. Your pet lizard prefers digging small holes in the substrate to lie down in a stress-free manner.
Your beardie would not have the opportunity of participating in this burrowing behavior if you have carpeted or tiled flooring.
They would continue scratching up the floor until they find a hiding burrow that provides a private and secluded space as a winter hideout.
When bearded dragons brumate in their natural habitat, they get their hydration from dewdrops on the leaves and fresh vegetables. They also get their moisture from a running water source, as it’s hygienic to them. They tend to avoid drinking from a stagnant water source.
Some beardies might be more inclined to take a few sips from a water bowl or syringing water setup. They would crawl out of their burrow from time to time for rehydration purposes during the brumation period.
A highly effective method to test the current hydration of your pet lizard is to simply pinch their skin from your fingers and it if takes a few moments before getting back to its prior position, then this can tell that they are dehydrated.
Give them a bath
This exotic lizard species can absorb moisture through their skin, and this the reason why placing them in a mini water tub can turn out to be a highly efficient hydration method.
While soaking your bearded dragon in a bath, you need to ensure that their head stays above the water surface. They are highly sleepy during their brumation period. Due to this, they can even drown in a shallow pool of water during the inactive phase.
The time duration of bath should last anywhere from 20 to 30 minutes and you should dry them up with a towel because wet skin can trigger a sudden fungal growth.
Video for Bathing Bearded Dragon
Monitor weight loss
This Australian lizard has evolved to slow down its metabolism to a rate that makes it seem that it is dead, as its digestive system and heart rate stays minimal during this sleep cycle.
If you have cleared them for intestinal worms and other unwanted parasitic invaders, then you would notice that they would only lose a few grams of weight towards the end of the brumation cycle.
It is a healthy practice to keep track of their body weight every week, and you can only minimize the chances to cause any disturbance to their sleeping pattern by only placing them on the measuring scale when you wake them up for bath time.
Can I stop brumation from happening?
Once the biological clock of your beardie causes them to become lethargic, there is little you can do to reverse this natural phenomenon, and it is usually a good idea to let your cuddly pet do what they are supposed to do.
Generally, it would not be a good idea to wake up a sleeping lizard that is already in its brumation process, as that can put the reptile in serious stress and can even have pernicious effects on their immune health. This is an instinctive behavior that they would be doing in the wild, so you should not take it away from them for no solid reason.
When you intervene in this natural sleeping cycle, it is highly likely that it would put your pet lizard in a confused state – which can potentially cause them to increase the sleeping duration.
Some herpetoculturists might interrupt the hibernation phase because their lizard is too young to survive without any food for more than a month, as they haven’t developed the essential fat stores below their skin yet.
In some cases, it might be beneficial to pull your reptile out of the hibernation phase if they are weak or ill. We do not recommend allowing your pet reptile to go into the brumation period if they are underweight. They should also not brumate if they have parasites in their intestines. It’s difficult for them to get out of the sleeping cycle when they aren’t in their prime physical shape.
However, it might be quite tricky to prevent your dragon to abandon their instinctual inclination. You can give it a go by turning the lights on for more than 12 hours per day and setting the temperature back to the summer cycle.
Bearded dragons after brumation
The brumation cycle should come to an end by February, as it is the time of the year when the days finally start getting longer than the nights. This variation in the day-night rhythm would, in turn, causes your bearded dragons to return to their basking spot where their melatonin secretion can get back to the normal levels.
The photoperiod of your beardie’s tank should mimic the changes in the outer climate conditions. This way your beardie’s pineal gland would be able to sense the alteration of indoor temperature. These glands are also known as the “third eye” of most reptiles
As a reptile lover, you would feel the temptation to start handling your adorable dragon like you used to do. It is recommended to resist this urge when your beardie is brumating. Your beardie has an inclination to getting more agitated and aggressive after waking up from the deep sleep cycle.
When their metabolic rate becomes minimal during the brumation phase it induces a sharp spike in the hormonal secretion throughout their bodies . which is the reason they would display strong breeding behaviors such as head bobbing and beard flaring to attract nearby females in their surroundings.
Remember that your exotic lizard has been inactive for a few months so you would have to tolerate a bit of grogginess and anger from their side, and you should give them some private space for a few days after brumation.
How to wake up a bearded dragon from brumation?
Normally, bearded dragons start brumating when they are at least 12 months old. Some young beardies might also try to enter into this instinctive hibernation mode. It is highly recommended not to allow your baby and juvenile bearded dragons to brumate. It can affect their body development and overall physical wellbeing in the long run. In extreme cases, some young ones might not even be able to enter out of the brumation phase.
Although it is quite rare for young dragons to hibernate it can still happen. Brumation requires substantial amounts of nutritional reserves and heat for the body to sustain. Little bearded dragons don’t have the energy to feed their bodies during brumation.
The best way to wake up your bearded dragon is to increase the indoor temperature of the tank. This alteration in the indoor photoperiod would trigger them to abandon their sleeping ritual.
How do I prepare my bearded dragon for brumation?
It might be quite disconcerting for you that your bearded dragon can survive without food for up to a month. It is quite normal for bearded dragons to brumate – along with other reptiles. Before you allow your exotic pet to enter into this deep-sleep cycle, you need to do some preparations.
- Before the onset of winter, you should get a health check-up of your beardie. This would ensure that they sleep peacefully during brumation without suffering from any underlying diseases or discomforts.
- You also need to adjust the thermostat heating intensity and lighting setup in the tank according to winter. Your bearded dragon’s brumation period would reduce if the enclosure remains warm during winter. You need to create cold temperate zones in the vivarium for them to hunker down.
- A hiding spot is a must-have for your bearded dragon during brumation. After all, it is a prey animal and it won’t feel comfortable sleeping in the open air. By giving them some privacy, you would be able to eliminate all the stress factors.
- Make sure that the bowel movements of your bearded dragon come to an end before brumation. They should not have any food left in their body. Leftover food in the intestines would rot after some days, which can be detrimental for their health.
- Lastly, you need to keep your pet reptile under your supervision on a daily basis. This would ensure that they wake up in a rejuvenated state towards the end of the brumation phase.