Bearded dragons rank among some of the most popular pets in the world.
These lizards are loved by enthusiasts for their docile nature and exotic charm. They are widely considered very sociable and rarely aggressive.
So it may come as a surprise to learn that bearded dragons do bite. While uncommon and harmless to humans, biting can be a sign of an underlying condition.
In this article we share five reasons why bearded dragons bite. We also discuss what happens when they do and how to prevent this behavior.
Do Bearded Dragons Bite?
Yes, bearded dragons do bite.
However, it is a rare behavior that occurs much less frequently than with most other pets.
Bearded dragons are not particularly aggressive and will typically save biting as a last resort. It is more common for them to show other behaviors and warning signs such as attempting to flee, hissing and puffing their black beards.
Many Beardies go their entire lives without ever biting their owner, but it is important to remember that bearded dragons are just as capable of biting as any other lizard.
There are several reasons why a beardie may bite, each with their own behavioral signs and ways to prevent it. It is very uncommon for bearded dragons to seriously bite their owners.
The strength of a bearded dragon bite will depend on the size of their teeth, their age, and their gender.
These lizards have wide, triangular heads and a set of up to 80 small, cone-shaped teeth. Their teeth are often hidden behind their gums and are only mildly sharp. They are meant mostly for grasping and chewing food, rather than attacking or tearing.
Juveniles have tiny, barely-visible teeth and a weak bite force.
Adults have teeth that are much larger and exert a stronger bite force. This is especially true for grown males, whose larger heads pack a more powerful bite.
Direct research on the true bite force of a bearded dragon is lacking. However, if we assume that it is similar to the bite of the common Gecko, which has a similar jaw structure and diet, then it is safe to say that it is much weaker than the bite of domestic cats. It is also much less dangerous as well.
The strength behind a bearded dragon bite is also influenced by the reason for the bite…
5 Reasons Why Bearded Dragons Bite
Hunger is probably the most common and least serious reason for a bearded dragon bite.
A beardie may simply be hungry and a little too excited for food. This is more likely to occur if you handfeed, or directly interact with them during their feeding time. Overexcited nipping can happen fairly easily if you aren’t careful!
There are two main reasons why this bite might happen:
- Your bearded dragon is mistaking your fingers for food because they look and/or smell like it.
- They got too excited and accidentally nipped you while lunging for nearby food.
Both of these types of bites tend to be quite soft. They shouldn’t lead to any serious issues as they are not intended to hurt, but simply grab.
To prevent this bite from happening, there are several precautions you can take.
Start by making sure your fingers are clean and do not smell or taste like food. You can also avoid wiggling them like a worm or other bug when feeding a bearded dragon. Finally, you should keep your fingers out of harm’s way by using tweezers to “hand” food to them from a distance.
The best way to prevent overexcited nipping is by feeding them on a consistent schedule. This will help your bearded dragon get familiar with feeding time and prevents them from becoming overly hungry between meals, making them happier and calmer.
2. Incorrect Handling
The second most common reason for a beardie bite is improper handling.
This is a mistake even experienced owners can sometimes make.
Improper handling can at best make a bearded dragon feel uncomfortable. At worst you can hurt or injure them, so it’s no wonder it may trigger a warning bite.
Some examples of bad handling are:
- Squeezing/holding too tight.
- Lifting them by the wrong parts of their body (like tail, neck, or legs).
- Jabbing or pinching them.
Usually a bearded dragon will squirm, thrash, and otherwise try to get away from you if they are uncomfortable. These are all good signs that they are not being handled correctly and may bite soon.
These types of bites can vary in strength depending on how comfortable your bearded dragon is with you in general and how threatened it feels. Generally they are on the softer side as they are primarily warning nips and not serious bites.
If a nip happens you should release them and work on improving your handling technique.
Focus on holding a bearded dragon gently and supporting their entire body by holding their torso from below, without wrapping your fingers around them tightly or making sudden or rough movements. Always make sure to keep them upright and give them plenty of freedom.
Stress or discomfort is often a sign that a beardie isn’t feeling well.
When a bearded dragon is feeling uneasy they are much more likely to bite.
Stress bites can range anywhere from small nips to full-fledged bites, depending on their trust of you and level of discomfort. However, they do tend to be on the more serious side as stressed reptiles are often more reactive than usual.
There are a number of reasons why a bearded dragon could be stressed:
- A recent change in their environment.
- Incorrect husbandry or care (e.g. food, water, or tank setup).
- Tail rot
If your bearded dragon seems like they are particularly agitated, they may be willing to bite. During this time you should avoid handling them as much as possible and carefully monitor their tank setup.
Abnormally frenzied or sluggish activity, loss of appetite, mouth hanging open and hissing are all signs of stress. They could signal that something is wrong, so keep on the lookout for other potential symptoms such as lethargy, discoloration, mucus discharge and weight changes.
4. They Feel Threatened
When bearded dragons feel threatened or scared they will resort to a variety of behaviors to ward off potential danger. Beardies will usually give clear warning signs and try to escape a situation when they don’t feel safe.
If backed into a corner, a bearded dragon will bite.
Fear bites are often the hardest and most ‘aggressive’ of the bunch. In this case they are in serious self-defense mode and likely giving it their all to survive.
When this behavior is directed towards their owners it is usually because they are either startled, being treated too roughly, or are not used to their keeper’s presence. Aggressive behaviors that signal they feel threatened can include:
- Beard puffing.
- Turning their beard black.
- Opening their mouth wide.
- Backing away from a perceived threat.
Male bearded dragons may also bob their heads up and down to claim territory. Doing this is a display of dominance and aggression that may lead to a bite if not respected.
If your beardie is displaying any of these behaviors, they are likely to bite and you should reduce the chance of them entering self-defense mode.
You should always maintain an especially gentle and careful approach to interacting with bearded dragons and take care to avoid startling them or rough handling.
Sudden changes in their environment can be very stressful too.
More often than not a bearded dragon will need time to acclimate to its new living arrangements and warm up to its new owner.
Their stress is just as likely to be caused by other environmental stressors like loud noises, other people or pets, and even other bearded dragons (which may or may not include their own reflection). Always pay close attention to their setup and what is going on around their tank.
5. Lack of Socializing
Your bearded dragon may simply not be used to being handled and will bite.
Typically hatchling bearded dragons are socialized early on in life by reputable breeders, but this may not always be the case. This may also not matter when they have only recently been introduced to you.
Upon getting a beardie it is important to take things slow, giving them some space and avoiding handling.
This is especially true for younger or rescue dragons, who tend to be more skittish and likely to bite.
A strong bond must be developed for them to trust you. You will need to start by spending time in their presence and gradually handling them more and more until they become noticeably more comfortable.
This process can take anywhere from weeks to months, depending on their age, individual temperament, and past experiences. You will need to be patient and understanding.
Do Their Bites Hurt?
What a beardie bite feels like will be different depending on the dragon and the circumstance.
You can expect a bite from a baby dragon to not draw blood or possibly even be felt.
Juvenile bites pose very little danger too. While their teeth are typically sharper than the adults, they are too small and their jaws too weak to break most people’s skin.
Adult bites can be more serious. They are much bigger and stronger and therefore pack more power. A bite from an adult can often break the skin, draw some blood, and be moderately painful – feeling similar to a sharp, hard pinch at worst.
How much an adult bearded dragon bite may sting will depend on the person’s pain tolerance.
It may be surprising to hear that bearded dragons have been found to be venomous. These lizards share many similarities with venomous snakes and have small venom glands in their cheeks. However, this toxin is very mild and harmless to humans.
The swelling and itching in some cases of bearded dragon bites may in fact be the result of this mild venom, rather than a bacterial infection like once thought.
Bearded dragons likely use their venom to help incapacitate prey items like bugs and small rodents. It therefore poses little risk to larger targets like humans.
What To Do If You Get Bitten
The first thing you should do if bitten by a bearded dragon is to stay calm! It can be too easy to jerk away in shock. While this is a hard reflex to control, the rapid motion risks tearing both your own skin and the dragon’s mouth and teeth.
If the bearded dragon is still holding on, then reach down and gently pull their mouth open enough to pull your bitten body part away. This will be fairly easy as they lack both a strong bite and a desire to hold on.
If they are not holding on after the bite, which is significantly more likely, then you should simply leave them alone and move on to addressing your wound.
Wounds from a bearded dragon bite can be treated more or less the same as minor wounds from any other animal:
- The bite site should be thoroughly washed with soap and water.
- Once cleaned, carefully examine the site for injuries. At worst there will be scratches and small puncture wounds.
- After cleaning, apply an appropriate antiseptic or antibacterial treatment to reduce the risk of infection. Bearded dragons can carry potentially dangerous Salmonella bacteria.
- If the wound is still bleeding you can also apply dry sterile bandages.
Bearded dragon bites are not serious, but basic first aid is still advised.
You should continue to clean and monitor your wound in the coming days. If the swelling does not go down, or you notice any new symptoms, you should seek medical attention as there is a risk of infection.
It is always better to avoid getting bitten, than to deal with treating bite wounds on a regular basis.
How To Avoid Bites
There are plenty of ways to reduce the chances of a bearded dragon bite. Many of them also double as ways to ensure your lizard is as happy and healthy as it can be.
Below we have made a handy list of tips to avoid bites and build a strong, trusting bond:
- Keep your bearded dragon comfortable and happy by ensuring their husbandry is correct to reduce stress (e.g. temperature, lighting, tank and enrichment).
- Feed them on a regular and routine schedule so they know when and what to expect during feeding time and aren’t overly hungry between meals.
- Thoroughly wash your hands before and after handling food to prevent the smell from lingering on your fingers.
- Stop hand-feeding altogether for over-excited bearded dragons.
- Allow your bearded dragon to become comfortable with you before attempting to handle them. Regularly expose them to your presence and remain calm throughout.
- Avoid startling them and refrain from sudden or aggressive movements.
- Make sure to handle them gently and pick them up by their stomach – not their tail, neck or legs.
- Be patient and calm when handling a bearded dragon. Do not flip them on their side or back, or move them around quickly.
- If a bearded dragon is displaying aggressive behavior, do not try to handle them. Signs of this behavior can include squirming, hissing, beard puffing, turning their beard black, retreating and head bobbing.
- You should also not try to handle them when they are shedding as contact will be uncomfortable.
- Never try to ‘forcibly’ handle them.
Bearded dragons typically only bite as a last resort. It is more common for them to display defensive behaviors such as attempting to flee, hissing, puffing and turning their beards black.
Hunger, rough handling, stress and a lack of socialization are all reasons why a bearded dragon will bite.
Bearded dragon bites do very little damage to humans. They lack strong jaws, or particularly sharp teeth and will rarely hold on after biting.
Surprisingly, bearded dragons are venomous. Their bites are capable of injecting small doses of venom. However, this venom is meant for the small animals they hunt and poses no serious danger to humans or other large animals. The worst symptoms it may cause are itching and swelling at the bite wound.
The most severe damage you may face from a bite is mild scratches, puncture wounds, and bleeding. At worst, a bite feels similar to a sharp, hard pinch.
Bites should be washed and cared for with basic first aid as open wounds pose a risk of infection.