If you own a bearded dragon, you’ve probably had to deal with them going through brumation at some point.
As a good owner, you need to know what brumation is, its purpose, and how you should properly accommodate and care for your dragon before, during, and after the process.
When a bearded dragon undergoes brumation, it will become inactive during the year’s colder months, depending on where they are in captivity or the wild. Brumation is the cold-blooded equivalent of hibernation and allows reptiles to survive during the winter in the wild.
Although brumation doesn’t have much of a purpose in captivity, most reptiles, including bearded dragons, still instinctually know to become dormant during the winter.
Read on to learn more about this hibernation-like state.
What Is Bearded Dragon Brumation?
As we briefly touched on above, brumation is a natural process widely understood to essentially be hibernation for cold-blooded animals.
However, it is important to note the two aren’t the same, as they have several key differences.
Hibernating animals tend to be more difficult to wake up as they fall into a deeper “sleep” than brumating reptiles.
An animal experiencing brumation will occasionally wake up and enter intermittent periods of low activity, particularly in captivity.
In contrast, animals in hibernation usually don’t wake up until the cold season has completely passed.
However, the biggest differentiator involves how much food the animals consume before and during their period of dormancy.
Mammals’ metabolisms remain active during their hibernation period, so they need to eat much more food beforehand to keep themselves alive through the colder months.
Their metabolic rates decrease so significantly to where they are unable to digest any food at all.
Still, brumation and hibernation do have many characteristics in common, including:
- Significantly lowered body temperature. Both mammals and reptiles lower their body temperatures to help them survive harsh winters.
- Decreased heart rate. This is another tactic to help these animals consume as little energy as possible to last through the entire ordeal.
- Decreased lung and respiratory function. To an unaware bystander, a brumating or hibernating animal will appear to not be breathing at all. While neither brumating reptiles nor hibernating mammals stop breathing entirely, they do significantly decrease the rate at which they breathe to help them conserve energy.
In short, brumation is about survival.
Reptiles developed a means of survival to get them through the cold winter months without succumbing to the frigid temperatures.
During this period, these animals do not eat, move, or even pass bowel movements for several months; they barely even breathe!
This allows them to dedicate every last bit of their remaining energy to their survival.
This is an amazing feat, considering even a slight temperature change is often deadly to most reptiles, as they cannot produce their body heat and usually rely on external heat sources, such as the sun and hot rocks in the wild or heat lamps in captivity.
Why Do Bearded Dragons Brumate?
Interestingly, the brumation cycle is essentially useless to bearded dragons in captivity since their environmental conditions such as temperature and humidity are strictly regulated year-round.
However, in the wild, these animals’ natural conditions are far harsher.
Without brumation, reptiles such as bearded dragons in the wild would simply die off en masse during the winter.
Since they cannot maintain or increase their body temperature, they typically rely on sunlight and other external sources of warmth to keep themselves from freezing.
Since captive dragons haven’t yet evolved past the need to brumate, they instinctively will quit eating, drinking, and moving every winter.
However, it is important to keep in mind brumation behaviors vary significantly between individual beardies in captivity, as they cannot determine the time or length of the seasons as reliably as wild lizards do.
Your beardie might skip brumation some years entirely or even go through a shortened brumation period.
They might even go through a longer brumation cycle than usual.
Many dragons in captivity get a bit confused when it comes to brumation because their habitats are regulated.
Hence, they are not in the wild, making them unable to predict and determine weather patterns.
Is Bearded Dragon Brumation Normal?
Despite how scary it looks to an uninformed reptile owner, brumation is completely normal and crucial to the survival of reptiles in the wild worldwide.
Like we mentioned earlier, although captive beardies don’t have any reason to brumate, their bodies will still instinctually “know” when to begin slowing down their activity and eventually enter their deep sleep.
Keep in mind your beardie will likely experience a wide range of physical and mental changes during their brumation period, including the following.
While your dragon won’t become emaciated by any means, it is typical for beardies to become a bit more slender during brumation and upon waking up.
This will likely be the most visible change your pet undergoes physically.
Decrease in activity level
Another fairly obvious change your lizard will experience during brumation is a significant decrease in how physically active they are.
Even if your dragon doesn’t go through a full brumation cycle or gets a bit confused and wakes up from time to time, overall, they will not move or exercise as much as usual.
Eating less or not at all
Most beardies will quit eating entirely a few days or even weeks before entering brumation.
During this period, it is normal for your dragon to eat very little or refuse food altogether, while others will eat a small amount from time to time.
If your pet is going through a period right now where they’re having issues with eating please read our post on why bearded dragons stop eating for a dedicated post on the topic.
Not drinking water
Although this varies from beardie to beardie, many individuals will drink very little to no water at all in addition to refusing to eat.
This is also normal for brumating reptiles.
Check out our post on how much water bearded dragons need if you’re having any problems with water consumption.
Avoiding heat sources
Just before entering brumation, most lizards will lurk in the corners of their tank, in their hides, and generally just steer clear of their heat lamp.
You will need to reduce the amount of heat and UVB lighting you would normally provide to your lizard during this period, which we will cover more in-depth later.
Although these symptoms would normally be a cause of alarm in a healthy dragon, they are to be expected during brumation.
So yes, in short, brumation and all of its seemingly scary side effects are normal.
When Does Bearded Dragon Brumation Occur?
When it comes to wild bearded dragons, brumation is predictable and follows a much stricter timeframe and set of behaviors than with beardies in captivity.
This is because wild reptiles have more environmental cues to signal to them when they begin the brumation process.
For example, wild bearded dragons experience a full range of changing seasons in their natural habitat in Australia.
The wild dragons’ overall activity levels will begin to decrease just before the beginning of winter, and they will typically fully enter brumation by June or July.
Eventually, they will exit brumation as the Australian winter comes to a close around September or October and resume their normal activity levels and begin eating, drinking, and hunting again as their body temperature gradually increases, signaling to them the end of their cycle.
However, for pet bearded dragons in captivity, the environmental cues are not nearly as clear to them.
While they have some idea of the changing seasons around them, their enclosures are meant to be kept in a state of perpetual summer.
Depending on where you live, though, most beardies will attempt to enter brumation when they sense winter is approaching.
If you live in the northern hemisphere, your lizard will probably brumate anywhere from October to early April, depending on how cold your particular climate is.
If you live in the southern hemisphere, you should expect your beardie to approach brumation around April and begin waking up around September or so.
Now, it is important to note not all captive bearded dragons will reliably enter and exit brumation at the same time each year.
While they do have some instinctual knowledge of when to begin brumating, they usually become confused by the conflicting environmental stimuli.
Some bearded dragons will brumate normally, while some will merely decrease activity but otherwise behave as usual.
Some others will even enter brumation for a few days or weeks, wake back up, and then re-enter brumation again for an indeterminate period later.
Usually, though, even for captive beardies, they simply “know” when winter is approaching, so you won’t experience anything extreme like your lizard attempting to brumate in the middle of summer.
But if your pet does brumate in the summer we have a post covering summer brumation in bearded dragons.
Do Baby and Juvenile Bearded Dragons Brumate?
Generally, bearded dragons do not begin brumating until they are at least 10 to 18 months of age or around the age of sexual maturity.
Baby and juvenile bearded dragons also have very fast metabolisms which require frequent feedings to accommodate their growing bodies.
They need regular light cycles, plenty of calcium, and lots of heat and UV to grow normally.
They have lots of energy and typically exercise and move about much more than adult beardies.
If you think your baby or juvenile beardie is attempting to brumate, you should seek the help of a veterinarian as soon as possible, as this behavior is not normal.
While an adult bearded dragon is perfectly capable of slowing its metabolic rate down to almost nothing, a baby beardie would quickly succumb to the rigorous brumation process.
Signs Your Bearded Dragon Is About To Brumate
When your dragon is approaching brumation, it will display a variety of noticeable signs and symptoms.
As the colder months get closer, you should expect your beardie to show the following signs:
Gradual decrease in activity
You will likely notice a difference between your beardie’s activity level during the summer versus in the fall and winter, but how significant this difference is will vary from dragon to dragon.
Generally, though, you’ll be able to observe your lizard sleeping more and for longer periods, and they won’t be running around as much as usual, either.
Gradual decrease in appetite
Like the previous sign, this is quite noticeable if you carefully monitor your lizard’s feeding times, overall desire to eat, and behaviors during feedings.
Your dragon might eat slightly less or even refuse food at all on certain days.
However, as winter approaches, most adult bearded dragons experience some decrease in appetite, even if it is barely noticeable, while some will be on the more end of the spectrum and not eat for days before brumation.
This symptom also varies significantly depending on your lizard’s overall temperament and personality.
While most dragons will become less agreeable and more lethargic, some will be downright mean and aggressive, while others will behave only slightly more aloof and standoffish than usual.
Either behavior is quite normal as long as your pet isn’t in any visible pain.
Infrequent bowel movements
Along with eating less, your beardie will also be pooping a lot less.
However, how much less they defecate will depend on how quickly your lizard stops eating and if they stop eating entirely or still eat occasionally.
Keep an eye out for signs of impaction during this time, as less active beardies going through brumation are particularly susceptible to their bowels becoming impacted.
Avoiding heat sources
As brumation approaches, your beardie won’t be seeking out their heat and UVB lamps as much.
While some lizards will still bask occasionally during brumation, many will avoid doing so completely until the warmer months roll back around.
You’ll still need to provide your beardie with regular night and day cycles, though it is best to decrease the amount of light by several hours each day to allow them to rest, as they won’t need as much heat during this time anyway.
Disliking being handled
Even with the friendliest, most people-friendly dragons, brumation will turn them into a bit of a curmudgeon.
It is normal for your beardie not to want to be handled during this time, as they are likely very tired and preparing for a quite physically and mentally stressful endeavor.
Overall, you should expect your beardie to be less outgoing and active as they prepare their bodies for the winter months.
Don’t pester or agitate them with excessive handling during this time, and give them plenty of space to allow their body to adjust.
What To Do For A Brumating Bearded Dragon
You should don’t much for a brumating beardie other than just leaving them to their own devices and checking on them for any signs of illness or unusual behavior.
As your dragon enters their little version of hibernation, monitor them closely–at a distance–and only intervene when they seek light or food.
When your bearded dragon begins displaying the symptoms described above, you should help along the process in the following ways:
It’s a good idea to give your beardie warm baths regularly (at least a few times per week), but during brumation, you won’t be able to bathe them as frequently.
Be sure to give your dragon plenty of warm soaks before they enter brumation.
If your lizard is the type to wake up intermittently and remain somewhat active throughout the entire process, you’ll be able to bathe them semi-regularly.
Baths will help with shedding, bowel movements and generally just make the lizard more comfortable.
Monitor Behavior For Unusual Symptoms
If your beardie seems to be in pain, impacted, or is otherwise experiencing distress and black bearding constantly, you should seek the advice of your reptile veterinarian.
While dragons are normal to behave a bit differently during brumation, pain and extreme stress are not normal.
Give Them Food And Water
Many dragons in captivity will not brumate throughout the entire winter and will instead wake up from time to time and be somewhat active in between long, deep sleep.
While they might refuse to eat and to drink entirely, it is still a good idea to at least offer them food and water when they experience periods of activity or even just lightly mist them with water a few times per day.
Decrease Light Cycles
Normally, your beardie should get around 10 to 12 hours of UVB and heat each day.
However, during brumation, they will tend to avoid their light sources entirely, so it is fine to leave the lamps off for longer periods.
Depending on how active your dragon is during brumation, it is safe to lower the time their lamps are on by two to five hours per day to help them get the rest they need.
We have another post that goes into more details on the bearded dragon light cycle requirements.
Keep A Relaxed Environment
Keep the noise and activity to a minimum in the room you keep your beardie’s enclosure.
Don’t leave the TV on or play loud music while they are attempting to brumate.
You wouldn’t like someone blasting music while you’re sleeping, and your beardie certainly won’t enjoy it, either.
When your beardie exits brumation, there will be plenty of time to handle them and take them out for enrichment and play.
During the colder months, however, leave the lizard alone and allow them to rest.
Don’t disturb their brumation cycle with handling, and only open their enclosure when feeding them or cleaning the tank.
While it is boring to watch your beardie sleep in a corner for hours, days, or even weeks on end, don’t attempt to speed up the process or interfere with it in any way.
Let the brumation cycle occur and run its course as naturally as possible.
The best thing to do for your pet while they go through this process is to leave them alone and monitor them carefully from a safe distance.
Only intervene if your beardie is displaying symptoms of pain or illness; otherwise, allow them to rest and wake as they see fit.
Your dragon knows best!
How Long Does Brumation Last?
Although brumation is more regular and predictable with wild bearded dragons, brumating beardies display much more variation in their behavior in captivity.
Generally, brumation begins as winter approaches and ends as spring begins, but many beardies will either brumate intermittently or won’t even brumate at all.
Either situation is perfectly normal, and anywhere in between is just fine, too.
There isn’t a set amount of time your bearded dragon is supposed to brumate; they know their bodies and how much rest they need.
Just support them throughout the process and ask your vet for help if you notice any troubling behavior.
Bearded Dragon Brumation Temperature And Enclosure Setup
Overall, your lizard’s enclosure setup and the temperature won’t change much during brumation.
While it is best to adjust the light cycles from 10 to 12 hours of light per day to anywhere from 6 to 10 hours, this depends on your dragon’s activity level.
If your beardie isn’t really brumating at all and is only experiencing a mild decrease in activity, it is best to keep their enclosure the way it is.
Give them a large hide for them to seek out when they’re feeling tired or shy, and keep the humidity and temperature the way it is.
On the other hand, if your dragon is fully entering a brumation period and sleeping for days to weeks, it is best to keep the lights off more often.
They will appreciate the extra nighttime hours and cooler temperatures.
For more streamline temperature information we have a post on managing bearded dragon tank temperature that you will learn a lot from.
What To Do When Your Bearded Dragon Wakes Up
When brumation ends, your dragon will likely wake up fairly gradually.
They’ve been napping on and off for several months, after all, so it will take them some time to readjust and regain their normal energy levels.
Give them warm soaks to help them pass bowel movements more regularly, and slowly readjust their lighting back to its normal day-night cycle.
You shouldn’t have to interfere with your beardie’s brumation at all unless they are behaving as if they are ill; in this case, get them to a vet immediately for further instructions.
Once they fully wake up, they will slowly resume normal activity until winter rolls around the following year.
Congratulations! You and your beardie have gotten through brumation.
It’s a pretty frightening time for inexperienced reptile owners, but rest assured; in most cases, your lizard will be just fine.