Part of our learning series of Bearded Dragons, as a potential exotic pet you can adopt is by understanding their anatomy. Understanding their anatomies such as their digestive system, the look of their mouth and other features will make you effective at noticing when they are sick or unable to use some of their body parts.
In this blog, I have provided detailed information on the main body parts of Bearded Dragons- eyes, lateral fringe, gular pouch, vent, and scales.
What is a bearded dragon?
A bearded dragon is a type of lizard that is part of the genus Pogona. They are native to Australia and live in the arid, semi-desert, and dry rainforest regions. These lizards get their name from the “beard” of skin that they can puff out when they feel threatened or excited.
Bearded dragons are popular pets because they are relatively easy to care for and can be handled frequently. They are also interesting to watch and have unique behaviors, such as arm waving and head bobbing.
Bearded dragons grow to an average length of 18-24 inches (46-61 cm). The largest bearded dragon on record was over 3 feet (91 cm) long!
What do bearded dragons look like?
Bearded dragons have triangular-shaped heads, ridges on their backs, and spines down the sides of their bodies. They are usually brown or tan, but some species can be orange, red, or yellow. Bearded dragons have a “beard” of skin around their neck that they can puff out when they are angry or excited.
A bearded dragon’s tail is about as long as its body. The tail stores fat and can be used as a food source if the lizard is not able to find enough food to eat.
Bearded dragons have sharp claws on their toes that help them climb trees and rocks. They also have long tongues that they use to catch insects and other small prey.
Why understanding the bearded dragon’s anatomy is important:
- Makes it easy to spot illness: When you know what a healthy bearded dragon looks like, it’s easier to spot when something is wrong. If your bearded dragon has sunken eyes or a dull appearance, this could be a sign of illness.
- Enables you to learn bearded dragon’s body language: Beardies communicate to you by indicating their likes and dislikes using their body language. By knowing their anatomy well, you will be able to understand what they are trying to say. For example, a relaxed bearded dragon will have its arms down by its sides and may even wave one arm slowly in the air. A scared or angry bearded dragon will puff out its beard and may open its mouth wide to show its teeth.
While there is significant research on different imaging techniques of Beardie’s internal organs such as the gastrointestinal tract, this article focuses on the external organs.
Bearded Dragon Anatomy
The anatomy of a Bearded Dragon is complex, and some of its features are unique when compared to other lizards. A Bearded Dragon has a long tail, sharp claws, and spines down the sides of its body. It also has a “beard” of skin around its neck that it can puff out when it is angry or excited.
Body Parts of Bearded Dragons:
Bearded Dragons have good eyesight and can see in color. They have vertical pupils, like cats, that open wide in low light and narrow in bright light.
Bearded Dragons also have a third eyelid, called a nictitating membrane, that protects their eyes from dust and sunlight. This membrane can be seen as a white or clear “film” that covers the eye when it is closed.
The third or parietal eye enables them to sense heat and movement. It is a light-sensitive spot located on the top of their head between and just behind their regular eyes.
Their eyes are along their side of the body and this gives them an advantage in seeing predators and prey from the side.
Bearded dragon’s pupils have extra slits, called nocturnal slits. They open at night to help them adjust their depth perception when hunting in the dark.
This study also documents how Beardies use their eyes for thermoregulation. Beardies use their eyes to control the circadian rhythms, which helps them to be active during the day and sleepy at night
The lateral fringe is a row of spines that run along each side of the Bearded Dragon’s body. The spines are modified scales that are stiff and sharp. The spines help to protect the Bearded Dragon from predators and can also be used to intimidate predators or rivals.
Lateral fringes are helpful to bearded dragons for two reasons;
- They scare away predators: Fringes make the Bearded Dragon look bigger and more intimidating. This can scare away predators or rivals.
- They help with thermoregulation: The spines on the lateral fringes are good at absorbing and reflecting heat. This helps the Bearded Dragon to stay warm in the sun and cool in the shade.
Keep an eye on the fringes and scales in your beardie. Scratches, rot or cuts may indicate that your beardie is suffering from an infection or scales rot.
Gular pouch are scales you’ll see on your bearded dragon’s chin and along its belly. They are useful for three reasons;
- Thermoregulation: Beardies are able to do what’s called gular pumping (high amplitude movements) and gular fluttering (high-frequency movements) which aids in evaporative cooling by increasing convective heat loss. Read more here.
- To scare off predators: Beardies can make their pouches look bigger to scare off predators.
- Storing water: If your beardie has been out in the sun and is dehydrated, it can store water in its gular pouch to drink later.
What you should watch out for:
Behavior experts of beardies advise that you watch out for signs of dehydration. If your beardie isn’t fluttering or pumping its gular pouch, it might be a sign of dehydration and you should seek medical attention. Signs of dehydration also include sunken eyes, lethargy, and wrinkled skin.
The vent is an opening on the underside of the tail that contains the cloaca a chamber where the intestine, urinary, and genital systems open. This is where solid waste (poop), urine, and eggs are excreted.
The vent is also used for thermoregulation. Beardies will open their vents to release heat when they are too warm. They will also close their vents to retain heat when they are cold. The suitable temperature in the environment of your beardie should be 75 to 90 degrees Fahrenheit.
What to watch for in their vent:
You should watch for any swelling, redness, or discharge around the vent area as these could be signs of an infection.
Bearded Dragons have two types of scales;
Soft Body Scales: These are the smaller scales that cover most of the body. They are flexible and help to protect the skin.
Hard Body Scales: These are the larger scales that cover the head, back, and tail. They are harder and provide extra protection from predators.
Bearded Dragons use their scales for three things;
- Protection: The scales help to protect the Bearded Dragon from predators and injuries.
- Thermoregulation: The scales help the Bearded Dragon to absorb and reflect heat. This helps them to stay warm in the sun and cool in the shade.
- Communication: The scales on the head and tail are used for communication. For example, when a Bearded Dragon is threatened, it will raise its tail and display the scales to look bigger and more intimidating.
What you should watch out for in their scales:
You should watch for any changes in the appearance of your beardie’s scales. Scales that are dull, flaking, or falling off could be a sign of an infection or disease.
The nose is used for smelling and breathing. Bearded Dragons have two small nostrils on the tip of their nose.
What you should watch for in their nose:
- If you see any signs of abrasion in your beardie’s nose, it means that it has been trying to escape from its space.
- Also, watch out for their breathing. Beardie breathes through the nose and never through the mouth. If you hear hiss in their breathing, it could be a sign of infection. Breathing problems can also be caused by inadequate humidity levels, so make sure that the air around your beardie is not too dry.
The ear is used for hearing. Bearded Dragons have two small holes on the sides of their head that lead to their ear canal.
What you should watch for in their ear:
If you see any swelling, redness, or discharge around your beardie’s ear, it could be a sign of an infection. You should take your beardie to the vet if you see any of these signs.
Bearded Dragons have four legs that they use for walking, running, and climbing.
What you should watch out for in their legs:
If your beardie is limping or if you see any swelling, redness, or discharge around the leg, it could be a sign of an injury or MBD infection. You should take your beardie to the vet if you see any of these signs.
The tail is used for balance and communication. Bearded Dragons can drop their tail as a defense mechanism when they feel threatened. The tail will grow back, but it will not be as long or as thick as the original tail.
What you should watch out for in their tail:
- If you see any swelling, redness, or discharge around the base of the tail, it could be a sign of an infection. You should take your beardie to the vet if you see any of these signs.
The mouth is used for eating and drinking. Bearded Dragons have small, sharp teeth that they use to rip their food apart.
You’ll notice your beardie’s mouth gaping most of the times and they do this not because they are smiling but because they use their mouths for thermoregulation.
What you should watch out for in their mouth:
- If you see any redness, swelling, or discharge around the mouth, it could be a sign of mouth rot infection common in reptiles and is a serious illness. You should take your beardie to the vet if you see any of these signs.
- You should also watch out for changes in appetite. A decrease in appetite could be a sign of illness, so you should take your beardie to the vet if you notice this change.
Fingers and Toes:
Bearded Dragons have five fingers on each hand and five toes on each foot. The toes are webbed to help them swim.
What you should watch out for in their fingers and toes:
- If you see any redness, swelling, or discharge around thefingers or toes, it could be a sign of an infection. You should take your beardie to the vet if you see any of these signs.
Bearded Dragons have sharp claws that they use for climbing and digging.
What you should watch out for in their claws:
- If the claws are overgrown, it can make it difficult for your beardie to walk and climb. You can trim the nails with a nail trimmer or file them down with a nail file.
- If you see any redness, swelling, or discharge around the base of the claws, it could be a sign of an infection such as MBD. You should take your beardie to the vet if you see any of these signs.
Video of The Anatomy Of A Bearded Dragon
Ways to tell if your beardie is healthy:
- A healthy beardie should have clear eyes, a clean nose, and no discharge around the mouth.
- The scales should be smooth and not flaking off.
- The legs should be straight with no swelling or redness.
- There should be no discharge around the base of the tail.
- The nails should be trimmed or filed down if they are overgrown.
- Brattstrom, Bayard H. “Social and Thermoregulatory Behavior of the Bearded Dragon, Amphibolurus Barbatus.” Copeia, vol. 1971, no. 3, 1971, pp. 484–97. JSTOR, https://doi.org/10.2307/1442446. Accessed 25 May 2022.
- Radiographic anatomy and barium sulfate contrast transit time of the gastrointestinal tract of bearded dragons (Pogona vitticeps)
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Hi there! My name is Ben Domb, an owner of two pets and I am one of the co-founders of OurPets HQ. I have several years of experience as a pet care professional in the New England region having spent time in various roles including a stint at a veterinary hospital in Upstate New York, Syracuse area. I am a certified pet care professional and mostly spend my time researching pet nutrition and sharing my thoughts in various blogs and columns. With quarantine and COVID restrictions, I have been spending a lot of time a lot with my dogs and cat and loving it! I also run a small consulting business providing advice to parents on pet nutrition, and especially safe homemade options to try. You can reach me at email@example.com