Why Is My Bearded Dragon Turning Black? (The 4 Most Common Reasons)

As a Beardie owner, it can be quite troubling to see that your lizard has turned black.

Why could this be happening? Is the Bearded Dragon sick?

Sit tight, and don’t fret, because we’ll get all the answers you need to diagnose why your Bearded Dragon has turned black.

Bearded Dragons can turn black for several reasons, including fear, stress, cold, sickness, and death. The most common reason is they’re cold and are trying to warm themselves up. We’ll explore each one to give you the best chance to accurately diagnose why your Beardie has gone to the dark side.

Photo Credit: Jeremy Shantz

Common Reasons A Bearded Dragon Turns Black

When a Bearded Dragon turns black, there can be a few different causes. You should also observe the severity of the color change. As well, you should consider the speed with which the color change occurred. Here are the four most common reasons why a Beardie may turn black.

  1. Thermoregulation
  2. Stress
  3. Illness
  4. Shedding

Let’s dive a little deeper into each of these common reasons why a Bearded Dragon may turn dark color or even black.

Thermoregulation

Thermoregulation is the complex mechanism whereby a reptile or other cold-blooded animal seeks out a heat source such as sunlight, to obtain heat. The animal may have temporary physiological changes occur that aid in the heat exchange process, such as turning darker colors. Setting a darker color allows the reptile to absorb more wavelengths of light and, therefore, more heat.

A Bearded Dragon may change color when it is cold and requires extra warmth to reach a comfortable temperature.

It usually occurs in the early morning after the reptile has woken up from its nighttime sleep. Typically, the discoloration fades as the lizard warms up.

Stress

We all know how much fun stress is. I’m sure we have all felt like we were turning black when upset or angry.

Well, Beardies are no exception.

When illness, fear, or anger causes a Bearded Dragon to stress, they may change their color to a darker color, or even black.

Male Bearded Dragons often display a change in color on their ‘beard’.

When accompanied with head bobbing, this may be a warning sign that the reptile is angry or agitated. However, you should note that these reptiles are relatively docile.

This sort of aggressive behavior is typically only witnessed in males and often occurs when another male is present. This behavior can also happen if the reptile can see it’s own reflection (thinking there is a competing male in the vicinity).

If the coloration is not accompanied by head bobbing, it may be a different form of stress, such as that which occurs alongside illness.

How Can I Tell If My Bearded Dragon Is Stressed?

We all love our pets, and owners of reptiles are no exception. Maintaining good health is the goal, or should be, of any pet owner. So, knowing the signs that your lizard is stressed or sick is essential. Here are a few key symptoms to watch out for, so keep an eye out for the following.

  1. A lack of appetite combined with weight loss is something to address. When combined, these two symptoms spell trouble. Not to be confused with the lack of appetite during brumation, when weight loss also occurs, it may be a sign of something else. And veterinary consultation is strongly recommended.
  2. The Bearded Dragon has suddenly changed color to black. It is typical for this to happen, especially on the beard. Take note of any changes that occurred to the environment, food source, lighting, or temperature that has occurred recently. One of these is likely the cause of the reptile’s stress.
  3. Your lizard is trying to dig through the glass of the aquarium. It can happen if the enclosure is too small if the dragon is hungry or stressed. Although not usually a sign of any sort of health issue, it is good to note so you can try to correct what is causing the reptile to want to escape their enclosure.

Illness

A Bearded Dragon may change dark color if sick. One recommended way to identify if a sickness is a cause is to give the reptile an examination. Here are a few things to look for when doing your inspection of the lizard.

  1. A discharge from the eyes, nose, or rear end is present. Any discharge present, from any bodily orifice (except during the act of defecation), is likely a sign of illness.
  2. A blackened or dark color on the belly, especially near the cloaca (rear end orifice) is present. A darkened or blackened underbelly is typically a sign of impaction, or in could be an issue with a female who is egg bound. Both of these are serious health issues which if not addressed, can lead to death.
  3. Loss of appetite during the summer months and warmer periods. As brumation typically only occurs in the colder winter months. Showing signs of a loss of appetite when conditions are optimal can be a sign that your lizard is not healthy.

If you suspect your Bearded Dragon is sick, please consult with a veterinarian immediately.

If A Female Bearded Dragon Turns Black, Is It The Same As When A Male Does?

Male and female dragons will both turn black if cold, stressed, or sick. The main difference between whether a male or female lizard is changing color is due to health issues related to pregnancy. An example of this would be if a female is pregnant and egg bound. When this occurs, a female has eggs inside that may have fused together causing a blockage. The female will be unable to lay her eggs. When this happens, medical attention will be required, or it could end in death for the female. If you are concerned about your lizard, please seek veterinary assistance.

Shedding

The last common reason a Beardie turns darker colors may be due to an impending shed. Sometimes, these reptiles may turn darker colors when a shed is imminent. Look for a glossy appearance on the eyes or any starting of shedding skin on the body. If the conditions are optimal and the lizard does not start shedding within a few days of a change in color, there may be other issues involved. You should seek the advice of a qualified veterinarian if this is the case.

Frequently Asked Bearded Dragon Questions

At What Age Do Bearded Dragons Brumate?

In most cases, the Pogona vitticeps will not go into a brumation state until at least ten months of age. Brumation is not something the reptile does every day, and it is difficult to predict when they will go into this inactive state.

Typically, when kept at optimum temperatures, a Bearded Dragon may not enter a visible brumate state, or their symptoms will be minor to non-existent. Generally speaking, brumation occurs when the temperature drops, and the light cycle decreases. These environmental triggers inform the reptile that the winter months have arrived. It triggers the reptile’s body to slow down and conserve energy. Symptoms will include sluggishness, lack of appetite and increased sleep. Warming the lizard to the preferred temperatures can often end the brumation cycle.

Can My Bearded Dragon Sleep With Me?

Although technically possible, you should not consider falling asleep with a loose Beardie. There are three significant reasons why this is not a prudent decision. The first reason is that you could roll over in your sleep and inadvertently crush your lizard. Bearded Dragons may not wake up to move out of the way in time to save themselves from a giant human (giant size compared with our small scaled friends).

The second reason not to keep a Beardie out for the night is that these lizards are not capable of being housebroken. If they need to defecate, they will, and it won’t matter to them if it’s in your bed or not. That would be a gross thing to wake up to, don’t you agree?

The last reason why you should not attempt sleeping with your Bearded Dragon is that the lizard could decide to go on an adventure. Typically, these lizards will sleep peacefully throughout the night, but they are small enough to go missing relatively quickly. If you are asleep, how will you know your lizard has gone wandering off?

To sum up, it is not a wise practice to have a lizard of any kind out of their enclosure when not under (awake and conscious) supervision.

How Long Does A Bearded Dragon Live?

According to National Geographic, Bearded Dragons can live between four and ten years. However, four years is, perhaps, the estimated life span minimum in the wild. In captivity, Bearded Dragons have lived between eight and fifteen years of age with proper care.

Bibliography

  1. Dr. H. Reichenbach-Klinke, Dr. E. Elkan. Principal Diseases of Lower Vertebrates – Diseases of Reptiles. United States of America: T.F.H. Publications, 1990.
  2. Bartlett, Patricia P., Bartlett, R.D., Griswold, Billy, D.V.M. Reptiles, Amphibians, and Invertebrates – An Identification and Care Guide. New York: Barron’s Educational Series Inc., 2001.
  3. Schabacker, Susan. “Bearded Dragons.” National Geographic. Accessed April 7, 2020. https://www.nationalgeographic.com/animals/reptiles/group/bearded-dragon/
  4. Seebacher, F. Franklin CE. “Physiological mechanisms of thermoregulation in reptiles: a review.” U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health. Accessed April 7, 2020. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16047177