Have you ever noticed a line of pores on the underside of each of your bearded dragon’s thighs?
If you have, you might have also noticed a strange, waxy secretion coming from them.
What is the purpose of these strange little spots, and do you need to treat or remove the secretions?
In bearded dragons, femoral pores present as a line of tiny spots across the lizard’s legs and vent. The pores produce soft, waxy secretions and will need to be emptied if they become clogged. Experts believe femoral pores play a role in attracting mates, but they still aren’t sure of their exact purpose.
If you want to know more about your dragon’s femoral pores and how to care for them, you’re in the right place.
Keep reading our complete guide to learning more about these mysterious spots, their secretions, and what you should do if they ever become blocked or impacted.
What Are Femoral Pores In Bearded Dragons?
Femoral pores are present in many species of reptiles, notably including bearded dragons.
If you hold up your lizard and observe their hind legs from below, you will notice a uniform line of spots stretching across the lizard’s vent and thighs.
Closely observing your dragon’s femoral pores is a great way to determine your dragon’s sex if you’re struggling with other sexing methods.
The pores continuously produce a substance known as femoral pore secretions composed of pheromones, protein, and a mixture of other unknown chemical compounds.
This substance has a waxy appearance and a uniquely thick, almost rigid consistency, and over time it will occasionally “clog” the pores and require emptying.
Without regular cleanings, the pores will develop a heavy blockage, cause severe pain and health issues, and even require surgery in extreme cases.
It is important to regularly check your lizard’s pores for signs of even a mild blockage to prevent potential health problems from arising in the future.
Although we have a general understanding of what the spots are, how they function, and how to clean them, their purpose in the wild is much more complicated and not nearly as well understood.
What Is the Purpose of Femoral Pores?
Interestingly, femoral pores and the waxy ooze they create have remained a rather mysterious phenomenon, even to reptile experts and veterinarians.
Generally, male dragons will have larger and more pronounced pores than female lizards, and their pores produce higher volumes of secretions, making them more prone to becoming clogged.
Females still have these pores, although theirs tend to be much smaller and less visible.
Female dragons also don’t produce as much of the waxy secretions, leading many researchers to believe the males have evolved to primarily use them to attract a mate.
This would explain why the males have larger pores which tend to get clogged more often, sort of similar to the sperm plugs they produce, which also help them leave their scent behind to appeal to nearby females.
And speaking of sperm plugs we have a post on the bearded dragon sperm plug that goes into much more detail.
Plus, most dragons’ pores tend to leak more of the waxy substance upon nearing and reaching sexual maturity, which adds even more credence to this theory.
However, another common hypothesis is the substance is simply used by both male and female dragons to help them recognize nearby members of their species and potentially even determine each other’s sex depending on the specific pheromones produced.
While humans cannot tell the difference between male and female bearded dragon pheromones, it is very likely the lizards themselves are far more sensitive to their scent and can gather more information from them.
Amazingly, it is believed bearded dragons can gather extremely detailed and complex information about each other from these pheromones, like diet and possible health conditions.
Perhaps in the future, we’ll have a more in-depth understanding of what exactly the secretions are and their exact purpose, but for now, it is still a bit of a mystery.
Can You Determine A Bearded Dragon’s Sex By Femoral Pores?
There is a wide range of factors to keep in mind when attempting to sex a bearded dragon.
As we briefly mentioned above, males tend to have larger pores with much more heavy secretions, also known as secretion plugs.
They are generally much darker in color and more abundant than they are in female lizards.
Females also possess the spots, but theirs are light in color and not visible to the naked eye.
Also, females generally produce much less of the substance, which tends to clog the pores over time than males.
If you own a female beardie, there’s a good chance you’ll never have to clean or unclog the pores at all, but this isn’t always the case.
This is why it is important to check your dragon’s pores regularly for any unusual swelling or redness, as these are signs they need to be emptied.
In addition to the differences between the appearance of femoral pores, male and female bearded dragons also have a few other key differences to help you determine their sex.
We have a dedicated post on how to determine the sex of your bearded dragon if you want a more complete guide but below is a quick overview.
Hemipenal bulge size
If you look at the underside of your dragon’s vent, you will notice either one or two small bulges near their tail.
If two bulges are visible, one on each side of the tail, the dragon is almost definitely male.
Females, on the other hand, have only one bulge.
While this is a very reliable method on its own, the bulges don’t become prominently visible until the lizard reaches at least 5 to 6 months of age.
Similar to the previous method, this isn’t very reliable until the lizard begins to approach sexual maturity at 8 to 12 months old.
Even then, both males and females are capable of displaying these behaviors.
Females tend to display more submissive behavior like arm waving to signal a willingness to mate, while males generally prefer head bobbing to signal a desire to mate.
However, these gestures also have other meanings not related to mating.
Like with most animals, male bearded dragons are usually a bit larger than females.
In addition, they have larger, wider heads and thicker tails, while females are more slender all around.
This is a more obvious one, but female dragons lay eggs upon reaching sexual maturity, while males do not.
This is another method you’ll have to wait until the lizard is a bit older to determine, but it’s by far the most accurate.
When determining your lizard’s sex, you will usually need to rely on several methods to be as accurate as possible, especially if you don’t want to wait until your dragon is old enough to lay eggs.
However, the older your dragon is, the more prominent the differences between the sexes become, especially the appearance and size of their femoral pores.
Why Do Femoral Pores Get Clogged In Bearded Dragons?
The amount of the secretions your dragon produces is somewhat dependent on their sex, but this isn’t the only factor.
The pores on their legs are believed to continuously secrete the thick, waxy substance left behind as the lizard walks and spreads it onto the ground, nearby trees, rocks, and the rest of their environment.
As the lizard moves through the world, ideally, the secretions are supposed to shed a small amount at a time and eventually fall off on their own.
However, especially in captivity, this doesn’t always happen, especially considering captive beardies aren’t nearly as active as their wild counterparts, giving them fewer opportunities to shed the waxy buildup.
This is normal, but keep in mind femoral pore blockages develop fairly quickly and become dangerous if left untreated.
When your dragon’s pores become clogged, it is important to empty them carefully and regularly.
Excessive secretion plugs will quickly become painful for the animal and cause infections and other health problems.
Signs of Clogged Pores
A small amount of the waxy secretion from your lizard’s pores is normal and usually will not require medical intervention or a cleaning.
However, over time, the pores often secrete large amounts of the substance, which tend to build up and severely clog the pores.
To determine if your lizard’s pores require cleaning and emptying, you should look for the following symptoms:
- Redness around the pores and on the hind legs
- Lethargic behavior due to discomfort
- Black bearding, hissing, or struggling in your grasp when you touch the pores
- Pores appear clogged with a significant amount of built-up secretions; sometimes, the pores will appear stretched from the buildup
Once you have determined your lizard’s pores are clogged, it’s time to get to empty them.
Your pet will greatly appreciate the cleaning in the long term, even if they don’t particularly enjoy the actual cleaning process.
How To Clean And Treat Clogged Pores In Bearded Dragons
If your lizard’s pores appear to be clogged, don’t panic.
Thankfully, in the vast majority of cases of clogged femoral pores, they are treatable at home without medical intervention or surgery.
To clean and empty your dragon’s femoral pores, follow these simple steps:
- Soak the lizard in a warm bath for several minutes. Allow them to become comfortable in the water before beginning the cleaning process. Make sure the water isn’t too hot to cause pain or discomfort.
- Use a damp, warm cotton swab to rub the area around the pores to help loosen the secretions.
- Use a soft-bristle toothbrush to gently scrub the secretions away from the pores.
- At this point, the pores should have loosened, and the secretions should begin to fall off by themselves.
You might need to apply a small amount of gentle pressure to the pores to help loosen them, but do not squeeze them too tightly.
The pores should not be bleeding, although they will sometimes become slightly red from the pressure and gentle scrubbing.
Treating clogged pores is generally quite simple and should be mostly painless for the lizard.
However, if the buildup is so severe it isn’t coming loose with gentle cleaning, you will probably need veterinary assistance.
When To Seek Veterinary Care
Sometimes, femoral pore buildup will become severe enough to warrant veterinary attention.
If your dragon presents any of these symptoms and the secretion plugs aren’t coming loose even after repeated cleanings, call your reptile veterinarian as soon as possible:
- Bleeding and severe redness around the pores
- Extremely lethargic behavior, avoiding walking or exercising
- Black bearding most of the time
- Avoiding heat sources in the enclosure
- Pores are extremely distended with a severe amount of secretion buildup
How To Prevent Clogged Femoral Pores In Bearded Dragons
Prevention is the best way to treat any potential health issue your dragon is capable of experiencing.
Preventative measures you should take include:
- Regularly checking your dragon’s pores during their daily baths. If you aren’t able to bathe your dragon daily, a few times per week is also fine.
- Washing the area around the pores during bathtime to help prevent severe buildup from occurring
- Housing your dragon in an enclosure with plenty of room to roam and naturally rub off the secretions on their surroundings; a 40+ gallon tank is best
- Observing your dragon for signs of pain, discomfort, or distress and determining the cause as promptly as possible
- Ensuring your lizard’s enclosure’s humidity level stays within a normal range of 30% to 40%
- Providing your dragon with a clean bowl of freshwater. Be sure to clean the bowl regularly, as heat lamps in the enclosure will evaporate the water very quickly.
If you follow these precautions and pay attention to your lizard’s behavior, you shouldn’t encounter any severe pore blockage in the future.