When I got introduced to lizards, it took me some time to tell distinctly the difference between male and female bearded dragons. While they are regarded as sexually dimorphic animals, it wasn’t clear to me how their personality, size, appearance, and lifespan, among others, differ.
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Bearded Dragons as Dimorphic animals
These are animals that come in two different and distinct forms with substantial differences between the male and the female sexes.
Dimorphic animals have evolved to take on these characteristics to ensure the survival of their species. The two sexes often look so different that they could be mistaken for two separate species altogether.
The distinct differences between male and female bearded dragons can be seen in their size, behavior, appearance, and lifespan.
Male vs female bearded dragons:
The significant difference between them is that males have two hemipenal bulges, bigger heads, thicker tails, enlarged femoral pores, and darker beards when compared to females.
Let’s explore these differences in detail:
Male vs female bearded dragon Size:
Males are usually about 10-20% longer than females and can grow up to 24 inches. Females, on the other hand, max out at 19 inches.
On average, male bearded dragons have 10% more weight compared to their female counterparts. Males have weights ranging from 450 to 550 grams while females have 450 to 500 grams.
Male vs female bearded dragon Hemipenal Bulge:
Male bearded dragons have two hemipenal bulges while females have one. Males have two grooves that run from the midline of their tail all the way to their vent. These are called femoral pores and they help in secreting a waxy substance that is used for territorial marking. They also serve as an opening for the male’s reproductive organs, the hemipenes.
The hemipenal is a copulatory organ of male squamates (lizards, snakes, and amphisbaenians).
Hemipenes are usually held inverted within the body and everted for copulation. Only one hemipenis is everted at a time, and as they are asymmetrical, two different basal plugs fit snugly in each female.
The number of hemipenes an animal has is unique to the species. For example, Snakes have 1-2, lizards 2, and amphisbaenians often have none.
Bearded dragons have two hemipenes.
The female bearded dragon has a single cloaca (reproductive/excretory opening) while the male has two.
The female’s cloaca is located closer to the vent while the male’s is located further back.
Male vs female bearded dragon Skull Size:
Male beardies have larger and wider skulls measuring up to 15% larger than females. Their skulls are also more triangular in shape when compared to the more oval-shaped skulls of females.
The heads of males are slightly larger in depth and width while females’ heads appear slightly narrow and long.
Male vs female bearded dragon, color change:
Females have the ability to change their color often as a response to external factors. For example, they might lighten or darken their color to match the temperature of their surroundings.
Males, on the other hand, have a much more limited ability to change color. The colors they sport are usually brighter and more vibrant.
This ability to change their pigmentation is possible because of chromatophores present in their skin.
Chromatophores are cells that contain pigments and they help in giving the bearded dragon its color.
The two types of chromatophores present in bearded dragons are xanthophores and melanophores.
Xanthophores are responsible for yellow and red colors while melanophores provide black and brown hues.
Bearded dragons can also have iridophores which help in creating a metallic sheen.
Male vs female bearded dragon, Behavior:
Males are usually more aggressive and territorial when compared to females. They will often try to establish their dominance over other males by engaging in combat. These fights can sometimes even turn fatal.
Females are known to be more laid back and easygoing. They are also more social creatures and can often be seen basking in groups.
Males tend to be loners and are mostly seen basking alone or with a mate.
Males will often try to assert their dominance by engaging in a behavior known as head bobbing or head popping. This involves the male rapidly extending and retracting his head and beard.
This behavior is usually directed towards other males but can also be seen during courtship rituals.
Bearding is a behavior that is seen exclusively in males. It involves the male extending his beard in order to make himself look larger. This is usually done as a way to intimidate other males or during courtship rituals.
Tail wagging is another behavior that is seen only in males. It involves the male rapidly moving his tail from side to side. This is also done as a way to assert dominance or during courtship rituals.
Males also have a long and thick tail while females have a shorter and thinner tail.
Male vs female bearded dragon head:
Males have a larger and wider head while females have a smaller and narrower head.
The male’s head is also more triangular in shape while the female’s head is more oval-shaped.
The horns on the male’s head are also longer and thicker when compared to the horns on the female’s head.
The image below shows a male and a female head;
Male vs female bearded dragon, Lifespan:
The average lifespan of a male bearded dragon is 8-10 years while the average lifespan of a female is 10-12 years.
This difference in lifespan is due to the fact that females are less likely to be involved in fights and are overall less stressed when compared to males.
Females also have a higher level of the hormone estrogen which has been linked to a longer lifespan.
Male vs female bearded dragon, Tails:
Males have a thick tails while females have thinner tails but are not necessarily shorter.
Males use their tails for balance when running and for intimidation when fighting.
The thick tail of the male also stores fat reserves which are used during the breeding season.
Females use their tails for balance when running and for storage of fat reserves.
Male vs female bearded dragon, Reproduction:
Males have significantly larger hemipenes (reproductive organs) when compared to females.
The hemipenes of the male are also curved while those of the female are straight.
Males also have a bulge at the base of their tail which is absent in females. This bulge is known as the femoral pores and it helps in secreting pheromones.
Pheromones are used to attract mates and play a role in the reproductive process.
Males also tend to be more aggressive and territorial when it comes to reproduction. They will often fight other males in order to mate with a female.
Females are less aggressive and are mostly seen basking in groups. When they are ready to mate, they will often signal their readiness by extending their tail.
Mating usually lasts for about 30 minutes and the male will often bite the back of the female’s neck during copulation.
After mating, the male will move away from the female and she will be left to raise the offspring on her own.
Male vs female bearded dragon, Femoral Pores:
Femoral pores are small holes located at the base of the tail. They are used to secrete pheromones and play a role in the reproductive process.
Males have larger and more prominent femoral pores when compared to females.
The femoral pores of the male are also located closer to the anal opening while those of the female are located further away.
Male vs female bearded dragon, Cloacal Opening:
The cloacal opening is the vent through which wastes are expelled and eggs are laid.
Males have a longer and wider cloacal opening when compared to females.
The cloacal opening of the male is also located further away from the tip of the tail while that of the female is located closer.
Females have narrow cloacal openings compared to males.
Sexing your Bearded Dragons:
There are other ways to sex your bearded dragons, but the most common and most accurate way is by looking at the vent. The vent is located on the underside of the tail, right where it meets the body.
Males will have two bulges on either side of the vent while females will only have one.
The male’s bulges will be larger and more pronounced than the females.
Another way to sex your bearded dragon is by looking at the size of the tail. Males will have a thicker and longer tail than females.
The female’s tail will be thinner and shorter in comparison.
You can also look at the overall size of the dragon. Males tend to be larger than females, but this is not always the case.
One last way to tell the difference between male and female bearded dragons is by their behavior. Males tend to be more aggressive, territorial, and active than females.
Females are typically more docile and passive. they will also basking in groups while males will often bask alone.
When it comes to choosing a bearded dragon, you may be wondering if you should get a male or female.
There are advantages and disadvantages to both sexes.
Males tend to be more aggressive, territorial, and active than females. They also have a shorter lifespan.
Females are typically more docile and passive. They have a longer lifespan and are less likely to be aggressive.
Females also tend to be more social than males and will often basking in groups.
So, which sex should you choose? It really depends on your personal preferences. If you want a dragon that is more active and playful, then a male would be a good choice.
If you are looking for a dragon that is more laid back and easygoing, then a female would be a better option.
No matter which sex you choose, you are sure to have a loyal and loving companion in your bearded dragon.
Sex Reversal in Bearded Dragons:
It is possible to reverse the sex of your bearded dragon through a process called sex reversal. Sex reversal by egg incubation at high temperatures causes changes not only in a lizard’s gonadal sex but also in some of its behavioral and morphological traits.
Some of these changes result in more male-like ZZ females than concordant males; others result in a mixture of characteristics not seen in concordant individuals of either sex.
Hormone treatment may also result in the dragon developing characteristics of the opposite sex.
For example, a male dragon that has been treated with hormones will develop enlarged hemipenes and a female dragon will develop eggs.
Sex reversal is a controversial topic and is not recommended by most veterinarians.
There are many risks involved with the procedure and it can be detrimental to the health of your dragon.
Sex-reversed females are also at a higher risk of developing ovarian cancer.
Before you decide to reverse the sex of your bearded dragon, you should consult with a reptile specialist to see if it is the right decision for your pet.
Read this 2016 Study on the behavioral consequences of sex reversal in dragons.
Flashlight method to sex bearded dragons:
You may easily view the bearded dragon’s sex organs by shining a flashlight from the top of the tail to its bottom. This approach is also superior for determining the gender of newborn beardies.
Once you are able to see their reproductive organs, check for hemipenal bulges.
Your flashlight will enable you to see that male beardies have two shadowed or dark bulges while females have one bulge in the center.
You can watch the video below for more details;
At What Age Can You Sex A Bearded Dragon?
You can try to determine the sex of your bearded dragon when they attain the age of 12 weeks.
Let’s wrap it up:
When it comes to choosing a bearded dragon, you may be wondering if you should get a male or female. There are advantages and disadvantages to both sexes. Males tend to be more aggressive, territorial, and active than females.
They also have a shorter lifespan. Females are typically more docile and passive. They have a longer lifespan and are less likely to be aggressive.
Females also tend to be more social than males and will often basking in groups. So, which sex should you choose? It really depends on your personal preferences. If you want a dragon that is more active and playful, then a male would be a good choice.
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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