Have you noticed your bearded dragon lifting its arm in greeting?
Many reptile owners love this adorable behavior and assume their beardie is simply greeting them.
However, this is sometimes a complex behavior caused by many reasons.
Bearded dragon waving is caused by fear, as a sign of submission or a precursor to mating. It could be a sign of greeting, but it is more likely caused by their environments, such as improper tank size, surroundings, or a window view. Juveniles will typically wave more often than adults.
If you have noticed your bearded dragon raising its arm to salute you, you need to consider the potential causes.
Their comfort and well-being could be at stake for astute reptile owners who want the best for their bearded dragon.
What Is Bearded Dragon Waving?
From time to time, a studious bearded dragon owner may notice an unusual behavior with their reptile.
It could be confused with other behaviors, so it is important to identify what waving is and what it looks like.
It is an adorable thing to witness, but we first need to explain what waving is.
When your bearded dragon waves, they will lift one hand high above their head.
They may hold it there for a few seconds before gently setting their hand back down.
Unlike a human who waves, they do not move the hand from side to side.
They are more likely to move it in a circular motion than to the side.
Sometimes, they will do it just once, and other times you might see them wave repeatedly.
No matter how often you see them waving, you need to know the reasons behind the behavior.
It may not require any attention from you, as it can sometimes be quite harmless.
However, you might need to adjust things to make your bearded dragon more comfortable in other circumstances.
Reasons Bearded Dragons Wave
Sign of Submission
The first reason your beardie could be waving at you is because they are demonstrating their submission.
You might see this action directed toward you or other beardies in your enclosure.
It is perfectly normal behavior to see in their natural habitat, which means they aren’t looking for a fight.
Body language is a key way for them to communicate.
Unlike some other animals who posture to present themselves as the biggest and baddest around, bearded dragons tend to be rather straightforward when they know they will lose a fight.
If another beardie displays a sign of dominance and they happen to be bigger and stronger, your beardie might lift their hand as a way to let them know they won’t be any trouble.
This submissive behavior helps them to avoid fights and potential injuries.
They won’t see any point in fighting if they know they are likely to lose.
What if your beardie does not share their enclosure, and they wave at you instead?
This could still be a sign of submission.
They may be acknowledging you as the leader in their life.
This behavior simply lets you know they respect you and will submit to whatever you want them to do.
This type of behavior helps to establish a social hierarchy.
There isn’t much you need to do about the waving if you feel it is a sign of submission.
However, if the waving goes unnoticed by tank mates, it may be time to put your beardies in separate tanks.
You don’t want one of your bearded dragons to be afraid of the other.
If their waving and submissive behavior goes unnoticed, you might even have a fight on your hands.
In a similar vein, a bearded dragon arm might be raised in a wave if they are afraid of someone or something.
When you notice this behavior, take in your surroundings to identify if something is around to make your beardie uncomfortable.
For example, your dog or cat might be pawing at the glass, or your kids might be making a lot of noise.
If someone is tapping on the glass or otherwise disturbing your reptile, waving is a natural response to let you know they are feeling a little uncomfortable and afraid.
It is very similar to a sign of submission.
They are signaling to let those scary objects know they won’t be a threat.
They may also exhibit other common behaviors to let you know they are stressed and afraid.
For example, their beard may turn black, or they may puff up.
When you notice your beardie waving at your other pets or your kids, it’s time to take note.
Something is stressing them out and causing them to be afraid.
Do your best to remove those stressors from their environment.
Shoo other pets away from the enclosure, or ask your kids to quiet down a bit.
Don’t forget to look for inanimate objects which could be causing fear.
The kids may have left a large toy in the area, and your beardie could interpret it as a predator.
Look at the area surrounding their enclosure with a keen eye to determine what, if anything, your beardie could be afraid of.
It could even be a new ornament you added to their enclosure.
Anything out of the norm can cause fear at first.
One of the best things to do for your bearded dragons is to give them a space all their own.
While they like to be near their owners, they also need a safe space to rest.
Keep their tank out of reach of your other pets.
If this is not possible, make sure your beardie has plenty of things to hide behind.
They should have more than one place to take shelter if they start to feel overwhelmed by their surroundings.
Stress and fear can cause several health issues for your beardie.
Along with waving, you might notice they have a reduced appetite, or they hide more frequently.
Be sure to take their concern about their environment seriously so they don’t have to experience other symptoms which may affect their overall health.
Form of Greeting
If your beardie only waves at you from time to time, it might just be their way of saying hello.
They might lift their arm in greeting if they haven’t seen you for a while or if someone pops by their enclosure to say hello.
Pets who come nosing around the enclosure might even be granted a quick wave if they don’t seem to pose a threat.
How do you know if your bearded dragon is simply saying hello or if they are afraid?
The trick is to look at their surroundings as a whole.
You might notice your pets are being overly aggressive at the walls of your tank, nosing or pawing at the glass.
The kids might be playing a rousing game of catch just in front of the enclosure.
If there is something out of the norm and your beardie is not used to it or feels overwhelmed, they may begin to wave out of fear.
When it is fear-based, they are likely to wave more than once in an attempt to signal to others they aren’t a threat of any kind.
A single wave is more likely to mean they are just saying hello.
You may also be able to tell if they are simply greeting other animals or people by their behavior following the wave.
If they are truly afraid of what is coming their way, they are likely to run and hide shortly after their wave.
A bearded dragon who stays out and alert is less likely to be scared and more likely to simply be acknowledging another creature.
Keep in mind your bearded dragon does not know the social constructs we often attribute to animals.
We often want to identify a wave as a form of greeting because we are accustomed to as humans.
However, your beardie doesn’t know waving means hello.
While your bearded dragon may be simply acknowledging your presence, make sure none of the other factors on this list could be the cause first.
This adorable behavior can have some troublesome roots which may need to be addressed.
Ready to Mate
If you have female dragons and male dragons in the same enclosure, waving could signify the females are ready to mate.
Often, an interested female will raise her hand over her head to let a nearby male know she is ready for mating.
This is a natural behavior seen both in captivity and in the wild.
It is typically accompanied by other mating behaviors such as head bobbing or circling the tank.
This body language is only likely to occur if you are housing multiple beardies in one enclosure.
For those who only have one bearded dragon or only keep males, this waving is less likely a sign of being ready to mate.
Remember, males should not be kept together in an enclosure.
If you have multiple males in one enclosure and witness a lot of waving, it is a sign they are staking out their territory.
It should be a sign to separate them.
Waving on its own is typically not indicative of mating behavior.
However, when other actions accompany it, it is a clear sign of being ready to mate.
If you are okay with your beardies mating with one another, there is nothing additional you need to do.
If not, then it may be time for you to place your reptiles in separate enclosures.
If the lighting is just right in your enclosure, your bearded dragon may be able to see a reflection of itself in the glass.
They could be hanging out on their basking spots when they look up and suddenly see “another dragon” staring back at them.
This could be a startling event for your beardie who is used to living life alone in their tank.
As a result, you might see the waving behavior start.
This body position is typically used to acknowledge the presence of another bearded dragon or as a sign of submission.
They are indicating to their reflection they don’t want a fight.
How do you know if they see their reflection in the glass?
Chances are you will see your beardie staring off into the distance and at nothing in particular.
If they frequently hide, run around, or glass surf, this is another indicator they may see their reflection in the tank’s glass.
Eliminate this issue for your confused bearded dragon by adjusting their lights.
Reposition your lights in a new place, so the reflection no longer shows up on the glass.
It may take some trial and error to rearrange your lighting this way, so your beardie doesn’t have to worry about their reflection anymore.
You might notice the waving only occurs during certain times of day, and it happens consistently day after day.
This is likely a sign the lighting is tricking your bearded dragon.
The light may be shifting in just the right way during certain times of day, encouraging him to see his reflection.
If you have a baby bearded dragon, you are more likely to notice this arm-waving.
Juveniles are more apt to wave as a way of experimenting with the world around them.
This is particularly true if you have multiple bearded dragons in one enclosure.
Even if there are no signs of aggression in the tank, a juvenile may practice their wave.
You might notice the wave looks a little different in juveniles who are testing out this behavior.
For example, they may wave their hand in the air for longer than an adult would.
They might also practice switching which hand they wave or otherwise alter their body position while practicing.
While this experimentation could be completely harmless, it is necessary to keep a close eye on it.
This waving could be a sign your beardie is becoming territorial, which will lead to fights and potential injuries in the future.
Keep a close eye on how this waving behavior develops over the coming weeks or months.
Be prepared to separate your bearded dragons if necessary.
Space is at a Premium
Some reptile owners do their best to make a comfortable enclosure for multiple beardies at one time.
While multiple males cannot be housed together due to fighting over territory, female dragons can often live in small groups.
You may even house a single male with two females though anything above three bearded dragons in an enclosure is considered too many.
If you have too many bearded dragons in a tank, you might start to notice more of this waving behavior.
Consistent waving toward yourself or other bearded dragons should be a sign to let you know they are feeling uncomfortable.
Usually, you will see just one beardie doing most of the waving.
Chances are, this reptile is one of the most submissive and the least territorial in the social hierarchy.
There are a few things to do to minimize their discomfort.
The first is to purchase a larger terrarium.
They may simply need more space to spread out.
This could be especially true if you originally purchased your beardies as juveniles and have since grown into their adult size.
On the other hand, separating your bearded dragons is also a good option.
The beardie who is lowest on the totem pole may only feel comfortable once alone in their tank.
Most of these reptiles are relatively solitary creatures, so encouraging them to live in close quarters might be a recipe for disaster at times.
The stress of living with others could cause major health issues.
Consider what you need to do to make your beardie feel more secure.
While it is convenient to house your bearded dragons together, it may not be the best solution for everyone’s sanity and stress levels.
Incorrect Tank Size
Finding the right enclosure for your bearded dragon is a bit of a challenge.
This is especially true if your purchase a juvenile who has yet to grow into their full adult size.
Your bearded dragon may start waving at you because they are uncomfortable in the tank you purchased for them.
A small tank can leave your bearded dragon feeling trapped in an area too small for them to stretch their legs.
The stress of having to live in an environment which isn’t right for them may lead to frequent waving at you.
On the other hand, a large tank could also make them uncomfortable.
If there are too many wide-open spaces, your beardie might be feeling vulnerable.
It is better to have a tank which errs on the side of being too big, but you need to ensure they have plenty of places to hide.
Feel free to fill the space with plants, hides, and rocks where they can seek shelter if they feel threatened.
For more ideas, check out our picks for the best bearded dragon vivarium decorations.
What size tank should you purchase?
An adult typically needs a tank at least 4′ feet x 2′ feet x 2′ feet.
They should have a tank ranging from 55 to 120 gallons, so they have plenty of space to fully turn around, hide, and bask.
Juveniles may need smaller tanks, but it’s always possible to purchase a large one and partition it off until they grow into their adult size.
Windows with a View
Can your beardie see out the window from their enclosure?
If so, you may need to cover this part of their enclosure with fabric or keep the blinds shut so they can’t see outside.
While you might feel it is nice for your bearded dragon to have a view, it can pose the opposite problem.
They are often afraid of what they see out the window.
One of the biggest issues you might be experiencing is their fear of birds.
A tree outside of the window filled with sparrows and crows is your bearded dragon’s worst nightmare.
In the wild, they are hunted by birds.
These prey animals would need to burrow or hide to protect themselves from these predators.
Because they are afraid of what they see, you might start seeing waving behavior take place.
Windows can prove to be a serious problem, causing their stress levels to skyrocket.
Whenever possible, do your best to move their enclosure away from the window.
Change in Scenery
Your bearded dragon is a creature of habit.
They grow accustomed to their surroundings, whether this means the setup of their tank or the room in which they are housed.
Whenever there is a sudden and dramatic change in scenery, they may start to experience stress, and the waving behavior is likely to begin.
Sometimes, there is simply no avoiding the need to move their vivarium.
They need to be repositioned in a different part of the house or even a different part of the same room.
It may be best to keep them away from other pets or kids who were causing them stress or inciting fear.
You might have moved, and now your bearded dragon is being kept in an entirely new house.
This could also be the case if you just recently bought your bearded dragon.
Babies have likely spent their lives up to this point in a pet store or at the breeder’s house.
They have grown used to those surroundings and aren’t prepared for a new home.
It can take time for them to feel comfortable in your home, so give them some space at first to feel at ease.
No matter the reason, your beardie is still likely to experience stress from the move even if it was in their best interest.
The good news is they will adjust to their new surroundings in time.
They may exhibit many arm-waving at first, but this will settle down as they grow accustomed to their new home.
You may also want to check out our massive guide on all bearded dragon behaviors and what they mean.