If you’ve got a bearded dragon, you’ve likely heard about or witnessed brumation in action. But what is brumation? How is it different from hibernation? And, why do bearded dragons brumate?
In this article, we’ll give you a detailed guide containing everything you need to know about brumation in bearded dragons.
What Is Brumation?
Brumation is when an animal, like a bearded dragon, enters a dormancy for a period. Brumation is the reptile equivalent to mammal hibernation. Essentially, their bodies shut down in order to conserve energy. When brumating, a bearded dragon might not eat, drink, move or defecate for weeks.
When a reptile is about to brumate, you might see him trying to mimic migrating underground like he would in the wild. In captivity, they look for the coolest and darkest part of their enclosure to settle down.
Unlike bears and other hibernating animals, reptiles can brumate at any time. When they do, they won’t respond to stimuli like normal since they’re in such a deep sleep.
You can poke and prod them and get no reaction. Occasionally, males will come out of brumation first before females.
What Is Brumation for Bearded Dragons?
Brumation bearded dragon style is not dissimilar to hibernation in many ways, but there are some important differences. When they brumate, a bearded dragon’s metabolic rate is reduced significantly.
This means they lack energy and don’t have an appetite. It is often a change in weather that prompts a bearded dragon to brumate. When winter temperatures set in and there are fewer daylight hours, it’s more likely.
As cold-blooded animals, bearded dragons rely on warmer temperatures and brumate to survive low temperatures.
Why Do Bearded Dragons Brumate?
As mentioned in previous paragraphs, rumor represents merely rehabilitative hibernation in reptiles. When winter comes around the sun is weaker, allowing bearded dragons to digest food as they must be at the right temperature.
In addition, most bugs and vegetation die and therefore it can be quite difficult to get food. Bearded dragons have deep survival instincts telling them they should breed during these lean months until spring when the weather gets warmer.
In the wild, bearded dragons live in warm and arid areas like scrublands, savannas, subtropical woodlands, and deserts.
When temperatures drop and a cooler season arrives, they instinctively know to brumate in order to conserve energy and survive low temperatures and low food sources.
In captivity, they mind brumate less due to being enclosed in more constant temperatures – and not all bearded dragons brumate either!
What Is the Difference Between Hibernation and Brumation?
Hibernation and brumation share many characteristics. They are both periods of dormancy when animals are less active physiologically, they stop growing, and their metabolic processes become slower.
In this regard, they seem to be the same. However, there are differences between the two.
The Role of Fat and Glycogen
Both reptiles and mammals eat more before winter in order to build up and store fat. Reptiles, however, also eat to build up their glycogen levels.
Glycogen is a type of sugar that is used in muscles as energy. When mammals work hard to survive through the winter months, they rely on their fat reserves. Reptiles like bearded dragons rely mostly on glycogen.
Also, in reptiles, fat reserves have an important role in mating, egg development, and reproduction and so many reptiles will go into brumation to kick off reproductive processes.
A big difference between brumation and hibernation is the oxygen requirements of the animal.
Though mammals slow respiration down when they hibernate, they still need a certain level of oxygen intake to survive.
Reptiles are more capable of handling lower oxygen levels in comparison.
Brumation vs Hibernation – Periods of Activity
Another difference is that reptiles don’t sleep the whole period. When a mammal hibernates, it doesn’t wake up until the hibernation is over.
When a reptile is going through brumation, they still have periods of activity where they will take advantage of an opportunity to bask, for example, though they won’t wander far from their den or hiding place.
Finally, reptiles still need to drink during brumation so that they don’t dehydrate.
Why Do Bearded Dragons Brumate in Captivity?
Brumation is a part of bearded dragon biology. These reptiles have evolved to brumate and continue to do so regardless of the resources available in captivity.
Even though temperatures and light in their enclosures are much more stable than in the wild, they are still in tune with the seasons and recognize when to start getting ready for brumation.
Signs of Brumation in Bearded Dragons
When a bearded dragon starts acting differently it can cause alarm. Sometimes, though, the way he or she is acting might indicate that brumation is about to begin.
Strange behavior might just be typical behavior in the run-up to brumation. It’s a normal part of the life of a bearded dragon.
Here are some of the most frequent signs of brumation in bearded dragons.
Bearded dragon brumation signs include frequent hiding. Before they go into brumation, you might find them hiding in darker corners of their enclosure.
You can help your pet at this time by ensuring his tank has suitable hiding places or tank decorations to keep him comfortable. You can get suitable equipment from a pet store or online.
Bearded dragons tend to bury themselves in order to protect themselves against predatory animals.
Wild bearded dragons also do this to help regulate their body temperature when sleeping at cooler temperatures.
In captivity, the same thing occurs and when a bearded dragon buries himself, it could be a good indication that brumation is round the corner.
One of the most common bearded dragon brumation signs is consuming less food. A decreased appetite or even a total lack of food could be a sign that a bearded dragon is about to brumate.
During brumation, most bearded dragons won’t eat at all and will refuse food, while others will just take a few bites.
Sleeping More Frequently
Before brumating, your Bearded dragon might begin sleeping more often during the daytime – usually for short periods.
Bearded dragons might also choose to sleep on cooler surfaces – but not all will.
Another telltale behavior that bearded Dragons often show just before going into brumation is slow movements.
The main reason for this is because their bodies are winding down; they spend less time basking and they reduce their food intake.
Bearded dragons do poop when they go through brumation, but it’s not as common. This is not only due to their bodies slowing down, but also their lack of food intake.
Often a dragon will want to go to sleep earlier than is usual for him. You might find your beardie is settling down between thirty minutes and two hours earlier than usual when brumation is on the horizon.
What Should You Do Before Brumation?
If you recognize the tell-tale signs of impending brumation, you might want to visit a vet to ensure you have a healthy bearded dragon.
Though the brumation process is natural, the signs of it could also be signs of other things so you would need to rule out health issues.
Even if you know for sure that your beardie is heading towards brumation, visiting a vet is still a good idea so that you can make sure he or she is completely free of infections or parasites before they enter the brumation period.
If there are parasites hiding inside the digestive tract, it can be particularly problematic for brumation, even in a well-fed, healthy bearded dragon.
If a beardie eats a food source containing toxins before brumation, potential parasites could absorb fat from your pet and reduce its body weight.
Not all dragons go into brumation after these signs, some just come out of the other side as if to change their minds!
How Long Does Brumation Last?
Bearded dragon brumation can last for three to four months but it often depends on how long cold temperatures last. In captivity, the brumation period tends to be a lot shorter since our homes have a more constant temperature compared to the natural habitat.
Even in captivity, bearded dragon brumation will tend to follow the seasons.
So, if you live in the northern hemisphere, they’re more likely to brumate in December, January, and February.
Conversely, if you live in the southern hemisphere, they’re likely to brumate in June, July, and August.
What Should You Do During Brumation?
While bearded dragons have mastered the skill of brumation over the years, there are still things you can do to make their brumation period as comfortable as possible.
Here are some ways you can help your bearded dragon through the journey and give them the opportunity to replicate their experience in the wild.
Get Them a Hiding Place
As previously mentioned, bearded dragons need somewhere to hide during brumation. Try to provide hiding spots that are big enough to accommodate their whole body comfortably.
Monitor Their Hunger
Though your bearded dragon might not be interested in eating at all, you can still provide food just in case.
Don’t worry if they don’t eat it though and don’t try and force-feed them. If food is not eaten, remove it from the enclosure after a day or so. The last thing you want is food rotting in the enclosure.
If your bearded dragon does eat during brumation, you should try and keep him awake long enough after eating to be able to digest his food.
Encourage an extended period of basking in the basking spot for a time.
When he’s had enough time to digest what he’s eaten, you can allow him to go back to his hiding spot to sleep again.
Keep Them Hydrated
Even if your beardie decides to stop eating during brumation, you should ensure the animal stays hydrated.
Unlike in the wild, your dragon cannot absorb water with its anal vent and so it is important to offer him water.
If you feel he is sleeping too long, you can soak him with tepid water each night.
Dial Down the “daylight” (optional)
If you want to replicate a dragon’s natural brumation environment as closely as possible, consider switching off the basking light more.
You can have fewer hours of light in the enclosure during brumation.
This won’t be a problem but you should only do this if your bearded dragon is definitely brumating.
How Old Should a Bearded Dragon Be Before It Goes Into Brumation?
Some baby bearded dragons brumate for the first time between the ages of seven and eight months – particularly in the wild.
You need to ensure juvenile bearded dragons are in prime health when this occurs and watch them closely. If your bearded dragon is under a year old when he goes into brumation, you should seek advice from a vet.
This is because they’re still growing and won’t be able to put on weight or grow in length during the brumation period.
Baby Bearded Dragon Brumation
A bearded dragon begins brumating as it reaches adulthood but it can happen at a young age too. Adult bearded dragons are well prepared for brumation.
Babies, however, don’t have the food reserves to cope with an extended brumation period and it can be a threat to their health. They could end up losing weight rapidly, for example.
Baby bearded dragon owners are encouraged to try and prevent brumation until their pet is older.
How Can I Get a Bearded Dragon out Of Brumation?
How do we avoid or prevent brumation when the signs of its approach are apparent? Regardless of age or illness, you can follow the steps below if you wish to prevent brumation.
However, unless you have worries about your pet’s age or health, you’re advised to allow this natural process to occur. With this being an innate process, it is not always possible to stop it from happening.
A responsible bearded dragon owner will allow their adult healthy dragon to brumate until the bearded dragon wakes naturally out of the process.
Preventing brumation might cause personality changes. Your pet can also be aggravating, stressed, and hostile towards you if you do so.
A brumating bearded dragon is not the happiest when disturbed!
Increase Handling Time
If your bearded dragon is of a young age, you can take steps to prevent or delay brumation. One way to do this is to handle your pet more frequently.
It’s also a good idea to increase natural light for them either by bringing them outside or by using more UVB lighting.
By stimulating them with activity, it is possible to trick them into not brumating this time.
Bearded Dragon Brumation Weight Loss
During brumation, dragons can no longer eat or drink. This is totally natural and is safe, proving they were healthy to begin with.
Remember, your bearded dragon can’t gain weight without drinking or eating anything. If you notice sunken eyes during brumation, it could be a sign that your pet is dehydrated.
When this happens, try to get them to take in water then consult a vet if you’re worried.
Bearded Dragon Brumation Behavior
Throughout the bearded dragon brumation phase, your pet will act differently in terms of their behavior.
Often bearded dragons sleep all day without awakening, or they will sometimes take lengthy sleep breaks.
During brumation, a bearded dragon may stop using food or water. It could hide underground for weeks or months.
Trying to prevent a bearded dragon from brumating is usually futile and could result in unpleasant reactions and behaviors.
Bearded Dragon Brumation or Dead
During the brumation period, bearded dragons tend to stop eating, drinking, and moving. This can cause people to wonder if their bearded dragon is still alive or if he is simply playing dead!
When a beardy seems limp and unresponsive, it doesn’t mean he’s ill – or dead – the issue may simply be brumation.
How do I know whether the bearded dragon has died or is brumating? Usually, it’s easy to tell. Dead bearded dragons can be recognized by their stiff body and no movement at all.
When the beardie dies, it loses color and you’ll be able to see bones more prominently. If in doubt, seek advice from a veterinary nurser or doctor.
Tell Me the Best Way to Tell if A Bearded Dragon Is Sick or Dead
With newly-established bearded dragon owners, brumation can often be mistaken for serious health issues or death.
Signs of serious illness or impending death in a bearded dragon include:
- Suddenly refusing to eat – not due to impending brumation
- Hiding lots – particularly at the cool side
- Being lethargic
- Losing weight (this doesn’t really happen during brumation)
- Skin is dull but isn’t shedding
- Color is paler
- Eyes not fully open or sunken
- Sleeping lots or minimal movement
- Digging, trying to escape, glass climbing, and extreme panting (these are all signs of overheating)
As you can see, lots of these signs are similar to brumation signs – especially the hiding in the cool side, sleeping lots, moving less, and not eating.
This is why you should always check with a vet if you’re unsure.
Bearded Dragon Coming out Of Brumation – What to Expect
It can be an exciting time when your bearded dragon comes out of brumation and starts to be more active again!
There are things you should expect in this time and things you should do to ease their transition.
Here Comes the Breeding Season
Bearded dragon brumation time is also linked to reproductive cycles and mating. During the brumation period, female bearded dragons ovulate while male beardies increase their sperm production.
As a result, once a brumating beardie comes out of this period, they will begin looking for a mate instinctively.
The Bearded Dragon Brumation Aftermath
When your bearded dragon is out of brumation, you need to wean them gradually back onto their diet. Their regular appetite might take as much as two weeks to come back.
During this post-brumation period, offer a light diet and avoid overloading them with insects straight away as this can cause stomach upsets. You should make sure that you dust the food in calcium.
Gradually Increase Handling
Your beardie will start coming back to normal slowly. Brumating bearded dragons need time to come around afterward so be sure not to handle them as much for a week or two.
Too much handling and you might risk getting a nip as they can be a little aggressive after brumation.
The reason you might see a personality change during this post-brumation period is that they have spikes in their hormone levels due to wanting to mate.
This might also present itself in behaviors like head bobbing.
Activity Levels After Brumation
Remember not all bearded dragons are the same. Most bearded dragons tend to be a bit groggy as they come out of brumation (as we would be if we’d had a long time away from activity).
You will gradually see their activity levels increase over the first few weeks after coming out of brumation.
Don’t try to rush your pet to get back to normal!
Heating and Lighting After Brumation
Once a bearded dragon starts to come out of brumation, slowly return to your previous lighting and heating regime until the levels are what they were before brumation began.
When you gradually increase the basking temperatures and daylight hours, you won’t shock your pet and he will be happier as a result.
Every bearded dragon is different and each dragon brumates in a different way. Some will go into a deep sleep and not eat or drink, while other brumating bearded dragons will still come out and be a little bit active sometimes.
What we’ve learned though is that brumation happens in cold-blooded animals like bearded dragons and snakes (as opposed to warm-blooded animals that go into hibernation instead).
They can brumate for a few weeks to a few months. It usually happens when daylight hours are reduced in the cold winter months.
As you get to know your bearded dragon, you will know his or her natural way of brumating and so you can ease them into it, support them through it, and ease them out of it well.
Bearded Dragon Brumation: FAQs
How Long Does Bearded Dragon Brumation Last?
A bearded dragon, like some other reptiles, can go into brumation for a period of a few weeks up to a few months.
Why Does a Bearded Dragon Brumate?
Brumation occurs in the wild so that beardies can survive the lack of food, low temperatures, and high humidity that winter brings.
Can I Hold My Bearded Dragon During Brumation?
It’s probably best to leave your bearded dragon to it. Too much handling might force your beardie to come out of brumation before he is ready.
Should You Bathe Your Bearded Dragon During Brumation?
It’s usually advised to give your bearded dragon a warm bath when you notice the signs of impeding brumation. However, you shouldn’t bathe him during brumation unless you’re worried about his water intake.
How Do I Get My Bearded Dragon out Of Brumation?
Most of the time, it’s simply a waiting game. Unless you have a bearded dragon that is a year old or younger, you should just let the process follow its natural course. For young bearded dragons and babies that go into brumation, you should see a vet for advice.
How Long Should I Let My Bearded Dragon Brumate?
Brumation is a natural process. Your bearded dragon will brumate for as long as he needs to. If you’re ever worried about the length of time, seek advice from a vet.
Should I Leave My Bearded Dragon Alone During Brumation?
Not entirely alone, no. You will still need to clean his enclosure and make sure he has food or drink available should he wish to take it. You should also remove food that isn’t eaten after a day or so to prevent it from going bad and attracting bacteria.
Is My Bearded Dragon Dead or Brumating?
This is a commonly asked question. Your bearded dragon might be completely non-responsive during brumation. However, he is unlikely to be dead unless his body seems stiff, less plump, and lacking in color.
Do Bearded Dragons Brumate in Captivity?
Yes. Brumation does happen in captivity, though many bearded dragons don’t brumate. In captivity, bearded dragon brumating isn’t as clear cut as it is in the wild as everyone’s homes and enclosures have different levels of light and warmth. When a bearded dragon is brumating in captivity, you will need to care for him in a different way.
Is Brumation Bad for Bearded Dragons?
The short answer is no, bearded dragons can brumate without causing themselves problems. Though their body temperature will be lower, they have fewer energy needs.
During brumation, you will have to adjust how you care for your pet, but it isn’t something you need to worry about. The only exceptions are if you have a young or baby bearded dragon or one that has health problems. In this case, speak to a vet.