Seeing your bearded dragon slowing down, stopping eating, and eventually just laying there can be a somewhat stressful event the first time.
You might be wondering:
Is he dead or sleeping?
Do bearded dragons hibernate?
Bearded dragons don’t hibernate, but they do enter a hibernation-like state known as brumation. During their period of brumation, bearded dragons are still aware of their surroundings and can become active for brief periods of time.
Let’s cover the signs that your bearded dragon is going into a period of brumation. (And when you actually need to be concerned about his health.)
Signs Your Beardie is Getting Ready for Brumation
If you pay close attention to your bearded dragon, you can easily spot the signs that he or she is ready for brumation.
(As we discuss later in the article, these can also be signs your bearded dragon is getting sick. We’ll cover what to do for this in the section on preparing for brumation.)
Bearded dragons will usually get grumpy before brumation. They may want to hide more and be touched less.
Even if they normally have an extremely pleasant personality.
This is completely normal.
Loss of Appetite
As your beardie prepares for brumation, they will begin eating less as their metabolism drops.
They may still eat a little here and there, but it won’t be the healthy appetite that they usually have.
This is completely normal, and you should not make any attempts to try to force feed your dragon. Offer food, but never force it. They will eat if they’re hungry.
Most bearded dragons will not be hungry as they begin the brumation process and in the days leading up to the big sleep.
While bearded dragons aren’t usually racing lizards, you may discover that they are lazier than usual in the days leading up to brumation.
If your bearded dragon isn’t basking normally, this is a sure sign that something is going on. Once you have verified with your vet that your beardie isn’t sick, give him the space he needs to do what nature tells him.
He will probably start sleeping a lot more as his metabolism drops and he prepares for his brumation period.
If this is the case, then you should just leave him be and let him rest.
Reduced Bowel Movements
As your bearded dragon prepares for brumation, his metabolism will start slowing down.
Because of this, you will notice him pooping more infrequently.
This can be a bit concerning, but in the context of brumation it is perfectly normal.
How to Prepare for Brumation
If your beardie is getting lethargic and isn’t eating or pooping normally, the first thing you should do is take him to the vet.
You want to make sure this is actually a sign of brumation and not something more serious like impaction.
Make sure to get a fecal test done and do a basic physical. A fecal test runs around $30 in addition to the cost of the visit, but it can be well worth it.
It’s much better to spend the money and not have needed it than to find out too late that your beardie was getting sick rather than going into brumation.
Adjusting Your Bearded Dragon’s Diet
As you notice that your bearded dragon is preparing for brumation, you will want to begin cutting out the meat and bugs in their diet.
It is best to time this to about two weeks or so before the beginning of their sleep.
Meat takes longer to digest, and having a clear intestinal tract will help them stay healthier during brumation. (Food can rot in the intestines and make your beardie sick.)
About a week before the beginning of the brumation period, you will also want to stop feeding vegetation as well.
For the last week before your bearded dragon enters the brumation period, you want to stop feeding completely, so their intestines are empty.
This will help to reduce the risk of impaction or infection during the brumation period.
Adjusting the Vivarium
Another thing you can do to help your bearded dragon enter brumation is to lower the temperature in his enclosure.
Slowly dropping the temperature to around 68 during the day and 60 at night will allow your dragon to go into the brumation period naturally without too many issues.
With some beardies this isn’t required, but it may still help them be more comfortable during the brumation process.
Length of Brumation
In the wild, brumation will generally last all winter – until the weather warms up again.
In captivity, bearded dragons don’t need brumation to survive a long period of cold, but they may still enter brumation.
(Mostly as a leftover from their wild ancestors.)
This could last anywhere between a week and a few months. How long it lasts is entirely dependent on your individual bearded dragon.
The Importance of Brumation
Brumation can be important in some species of reptile, even in captivity.
With bearded dragons, it seems to be mostly a leftover of their wild ancestors.
In the wild, brumation is an extremely important part of their survival. Much like with hibernation in mammals, it helps them survive the long, cold winter by reducing the amount of calories they need to burn.
This is especially important during the time of year when food is likely to be more scarce. (And even if it isn’t, the warmth they need to get moving is.)
In captivity, brumation isn’t something that all bearded dragons experience at all, and the ones that do may experience it during any time of year (even summer). Because of this, the benefits in the wild aren’t there.
One thing it is important for, however, is mating:
Brumation and Mating
Bearded dragons also use brumation as a way to prepare for mating. After brumation, your bearded dragon will often have a hormone surge.
For males, this means an increase in sperm production, aggression, and perhaps friskier behavior.
For females, this means that after a brumation period, you will need to watch out for the risk of her getting egg bound.
This is how nature ensures the survival of the species, by directing the mating instinct to as soon as they wake after winter.
Bearded Dragon Brumation Myths
There is a lot of inaccurate information out there about brumation in bearded dragons.
I’ve compiled a few of the more prevalent myths for you, along with what the truth on the matter is.
All Bearded Dragons Must Brumate
This is just not true.
I have heard from other owners of bearded dragons, and there a lot of them that never do it. While some may feel the need to go into brumation every year, others do not.
Some may only do so once or twice in their lifetimes, while others may brumate every year.
It’s really down to the individual bearded dragon.
Brumation Only Occurs During the Winter
This is actually two myths in one. Although both refer to a winter brumation, so I wanted to tackle both myths at once.
Due to the fact that bearded dragons originate from Australia, which is in the southern hemisphere, it is a commonly held belief that beardies will only brumate in the Australian winter. This would mean that in the northern hemisphere, they only brumate in summer.
If this is driven purely by a biological clock, then this would hold true, but it doesn’t.
There is also the myth that brumation only occurs in the local winter, but this does not hold true either. While some may find the need to brumate during the local winter months, this is not universally true.
There is no clear cut time of year that a bearded dragon will brumate. Each bearded dragon has their own individual preference. (Even setting aside brumations caused by incorrect lighting and heating setups.)
While brumation does tend to be an evolutionary way for the reptile to survive during the cold winter months in the wild, it is not clear exactly what would cause a bearded dragon to go into brumation during warmer months.
They Should Be Force Fed Before Brumation
This one isn’t just wrong, but also potentially dangerous to your bearded dragon.
They stop eating because their metabolism is slowing down to prepare for brumation.
They are in no danger of starving.
In nature, as wintertime nears, their food source will begin to become scarce. This is one of the signals, in the wild, that the time of brumation is approaching.
A wild bearded dragon would then begin to prepare for this time by finding a good place to hide and emptying its digestive tract.
If a bearded dragon goes into brumation with food in its stomach or digestive tract, the food could rot, causing a whole host of issues for the beardie, the worst being death during brumation from infection.
It is for this reason that it is best to let your bearded dragon do as nature intended and sleep with an empty belly.
Hibernation vs Brumation
“Brumation” as a concept can be a bit confusing if you’ve never heard it before.
Is this an actual thing, or did reptile lovers just come up with a fancier name for hibernation?
Let’s briefly cover the difference between the two:
Hibernation is where a warm blooded animal will lower its body temperature and metabolism, reducing their breathing and heart rate. This puts them in a comatose state until they come out of hibernation.
Brumation is what cold blooded animals use to survive the long cold winters.
Compared to hibernation, brumation is like a state of light sleep. The bearded dragon will still be aware of its surroundings, and can briefly become more active to eat or escape danger.
Typically a bearded dragon will be at least a year old before going into brumation the first time, but this is not always the case.
If a bearded dragon is healthy enough, it may go into brumation before that one year of age. If your dragon is less than a year old, you should check with your vet to ensure they are healthy enough to survive brumation.
Bearded dragons do go through a hibernation like state, known as brumation. During this period, their metabolism will slow and they’ll become extremely lethargic.
In captivity, this can happen at any time of the year and it is completely normal.
You should still check with your vet though to make sure what you’re seeing isn’t a different – more harmful – health condition.