Have you ever noticed a tiny discolored spot on top of your bearded dragon’s head between their eyes?
Have you heard other bearded dragon owners talking about their dragon’s “parietal eye” or “pineal organ” and wondered what they were referring to?
What purpose does your dragon’s third eye serve, and is it capable of true sight?
It is important to know and understand your bearded dragon’s biology and what functions certain parts of their bodies serve.
The parietal eye is a fascinating sensory organ reptiles, fish, and other animals have developed over many years of evolution and adaptation to their environments.
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What Is The Bearded Dragon Third Eye?
The bearded dragon’s third eye appears as a tiny grayish spot on top of their head between their eyes. The third eye has several functions including:
- Detecting changes in light to detect attacks from above
- Aids in thermoregulation
- Maintains appetite and energy levels
- Triggers regulation and production of hormones
Perhaps surprisingly, the term “third eye” is a bit of a misnomer.
While the parietal eye lacks an iris, it still possesses a lens, cornea, and retina.
For this reason, it is unable to detect and perceive detailed images and cannot “see” like their other two more developed eyes.
Still, it aids many biological processes vital to your beardie’s health.
The pineal complex regulates sleep and wake cycles in many species and is essentially an internal clock helping your dragon determine the time of day and season.
It also assists them with navigation.
So, while the third eye cannot see actual images as their normal eyes do, it plays several valuable roles in the survival and helps your beardie know where to go, how to avoid predators, and when to sleep.
In bearded dragons, the parietal eye sits directly in the middle of their triangle-shaped head when viewed from above.
It has a slightly different coloration than the rest of their skin.
It is a tiny spot difficult to find unless you’re specifically looking for it, and it is slightly larger than the head of a pin.
Although the parietal eye is very small and is not a true eye, it plays a huge role in many animal species’ lives.
Can My Bearded Dragon See Out of Their Third Eye?
As mentioned earlier, the parietal eye is not exactly a true seeing eye but rather a rudimentary photosensory organ able to perceive shifts in light and shadows, including ultraviolet light.
It lacks the definition and development enabling them to perceive actual images.
It detects light in a different biochemical way than their other two eyes, and it communicates with the pineal gland rather than with the optic center in the brain.
So no, your beardie cannot truly “see” out of their third eye in the way you would think.
However, it still serves many crucial biological functions necessary to survive in their natural habitat and captivity.
The parietal eye is most prominently visible in the tuatara, a living ancestor to many lizards and reptile species, including your beloved beardie.
Still, it is not a true lizard itself.
In most other reptile species, the third eye is a tiny grey dot barely visible to the naked eye.
It turns out even humans have a third eye, which scientists have found helps to regulate our circadian rhythm, but many of its other more complex functions are still a medical mystery and require more in-depth research.
What Biological Function Does the Parietal Eye Serve?
The parietal eye, as mentioned earlier, is a photosensory organ rather than a true third “eye.”
It is connected to the pineal gland, and together they make up the pineal complex.
The pineal complex serves many biological functions, including direct hormone production and hormone regulation, maintenance of core body temperature, and helps protect many lizards, including your beardie, from potential predator attacks or physical damage from above by quickly detecting changes in light and shadows overhead.
The parietal eye is also vital to producing many necessary hormones depending on the time of day, most importantly melatonin, which helps your dragon know when to go to sleep at night and when to wake up in the morning.
Bearded dragons are diurnal lizards, so they typically sleep at night and are more active during the day.
In addition to hormone regulation and production, the third eye also helps your bearded dragon determine the time of day and even the season based on the amount of daylight it absorbs or by measuring the photoperiod of light.
As mentioned earlier, while the third eye cannot “see” as their other two eyes do, it protects lizards from predators by sensing changes in light and shadow.
If you have ever noticed your beardie suddenly tilt their head up at you nervously as you are going in to pick them up, a quick reaction is thanks to their parietal eye protecting them from danger.
When your beardie does this, it thinks it is sensing the shadow of an incoming predator, so always be as gentle and patient as possible with them!
It is best to approach them slowly from the side at eye level when picking them up and always support their entire body, including their tail, with your hands.
This is also why your bearded dragon sometimes seems scared when you take them outside, as the difference in brightness and the sudden, unexpected shift from artificial light to natural sunlight often startles them.
If you handle your dragon carefully and patiently, they will over time become more comfortable with spending time with you outside.
Finally, since lizards and other reptiles are cold-blooded, the parietal eye is necessary for regulating their body temperature, a process also known as thermoregulation.
Like most reptile species, your beardie is unable to generate heat on their own like humans and other mammals do, so they must absorb heat from their external environment.
The pineal complex assists them with regulating and maintaining their body heat, which is necessary for digestion.
If your dragon is too hot or too cold, they become unable to digest their food, and some dragons will even enter brumation prematurely to defend themselves and conserve as much energy as possible.
How to Protect Your Bearded Dragon’s Third Eye
Your dragon’s parietal eye is coated by a clear, transparent scale helping to protect it from damage from both its environment and potential predators.
Whenever you contact your bearded dragon or attempt to hold them, always be particularly mindful of their head and eyes.
Be sure to not handle them too roughly or startle them.
Also, to protect your dragon’s regular eyes and their parietal eye, make sure their enclosure has proper UV and heat lighting.
Any light fixtures must be the correct distance from the floor of their tank.
For most bearded dragons, a distance of 6 to 12″ inches (30 cm) is usually sufficient.
Buy a thermometer for each end of their enclosure to monitor the temperature at all times and adjust their lighting accordingly.
Unfiltered white light is best for your dragon during the day, and you should avoid colored enclosure lights as they will disturb your dragon’s sleep cycles and are very stressful on their eyes.
We have a separate post going into great detail for bearded dragon light cycles if you’re new to it that you’ll learn a lot from.
The basking spot your bearded dragon uses needs to be, at most, 110° degrees Fahrenheit (44° C) to avoid any potential burns.
Their parietal eye sits directly atop their head, so it will likely always be the hottest part of their body.
The basking spot should always be the hottest area of your reptile tank.
Always keep the lighting and temperature in their tank as consistent as possible, as erratic lighting can upset your dragon and stress them out.
Remember, your lizard’s parietal eye uses to sense light and dark and regulate their temperature, so proper tank lighting and consistent lighting cycles are necessary for them to produce and regulate hormones and stay warm and comfortable.
The parietal eye has many names, such as the pineal eye, the solar eye, and the third eye, but no matter what you call it, it is important to understand its function in your bearded dragon’s life.
This tiny organ helps your dragon be safe, healthy, and alert.
The third eye aids significantly with the production of hormones and hormonal regulation, protects your dragon from predators and other physical damage, and maintains the core body temperature of your dragon.
Thanks in part to the parietal eye, your dragon can stay healthy and happy.