What Does It Mean When A Bearded Dragon Waves?

Is your bearded dragon waving at you?

Are you wondering what this behavior means?

Arm-waving is extremely common with bearded dragons, but there is a lot of disagreement about what it all means.

There are a lot of common myths out there about this, and knowing the truth is one of the parts of being a good beardy owner.

So, what does it mean when a bearded dragon waves?

A bearded dragon’s arm-waving can mean different things depending on the situation. Most commonly it’s seen in the wild as a means of species recognition, submission to a dominant, or female indicating she is ready to mate.

Continue reading on how this applies to your relationship with the bearded dragon and how to handle it.


What Does Arm Waving Look Like?

Some of you who are new to bearded dragons or haven’t ever owned one may be wondering what precisely this waving looks like.

In brief, when a bearded dragon is waving or arm-waving at you, they don’t move other parts of their bodies.

Bearded dragons will lift themselves using two of their back legs and one of their front legs.

They balance here in this position and tend not to move.

From here, their remaining front leg will lift in the air and begin making circles.

The speed of the circle doesn’t indicate anything, for what we know.

This behavior is called arm-waving or waving, and, as you’ll see in the next section, it doesn’t always mean something positive.


3 Reasons Bearded Dragons Wave In Nature

There are three main reasons why arm-waving occurs in nature.

Each reason is in some way related to another.

To understand why a bearded dragon is waving at you in captivity, we need to look at why they wave in the wild.

Species Recognition

One of the most common instances of arm-waving comes when two bearded dragons come across one another.

As they find each other in the wild, it’s normal for one or both of them to wave arms at each other (especially the smaller of the two, see below).

Experts theorize this is an example of species recognition.

It’s a way for the reptiles to tell each other, “Hello. I see you there. I’m watching you.”

This would be similar to how we nod or mutter “Hello” to people we don’t know when we are forced to share a space such as an elevator ride.

We’re acknowledging each other’s presence and drawing attention to the fact we know each other exists. 

Submission/Subservience

When arm-waving continues with multiple bearded dragons, it’s often a sign of submission or subservience.

Beardies are naturally territorial (especially the males) and protect their ground and prey from other bearded dragons who may be encroaching on their space.

For arm-waving, the smaller bearded dragons are telling the larger ones it acknowledges their superiority and begs the other to leave it alone.

If a smaller bearded dragon doesn’t sign this, it could mean a violent encounter to determine dominance between the bearded dragons.

This arm-waving is speculated to happen in the following situations:

  • Smaller male – Larger male
  • Smaller male – Larger female
  • Smaller female – Larger male
  • Smaller female – Larger female
  • Smaller female – Smaller male

When two dragons of similar size and sex encounter one another, this doesn’t usually happen.

Another side of this submission is when a bearded dragon is forced to interact with a larger predator.

In this case, the beardy sometimes waves its arms to tell the predator it means no harm and wishes to escape.

This doesn’t always happen.

Female Mating

One month after brumation (or hibernation), adult bearded dragons may be ready to mate.

When a male bearded dragon approaches a female and begins to sign he’s ready for mating.

She may respond with arm-waving.

Experts can’t say for sure if this is her accepting submission to the male or if it means something else.

Whatever it means, the arm-waving is usually accepted by the male and mating starts.

what does it mean when a bearded dragon waves

What Does Arm Waving Mean In Captivity?

Knowing why bearded dragons wave in nature, we can safely say why your beardy may be waving at you in captivity.

It’s not because it’s acknowledging you as a fellow bearded dragon.

I hate to tell you, but you don’t look like one!

It’s also not because a female is ready to mate.

Even if your beardy is female and it’s mating time (one month after brumation), the females won’t signal unless a male is present and signaling first.

Sadly, this leaves the final option.

Your bearded dragon is saying it acknowledges you as the predator and wants to be left alone. 

Bearded dragons wave at you not out of affection, but fear and stress.

As a good owner, this is not something you want to see.

It’s not even as simple as telling you’re dominant.

They won’t recognize you this way.

Your pet feels threatened by your presence and is afraid of being harmed.


Why Does Your Pet Feel Threatened And How To Fix It

The reason your pet feels stressed by you comes down to two different things:

  1. The environment feels stressful and unsafe
  2. It doesn’t recognize you in a positive light

So how do we fix these problems?

Start by making sure your bearded dragon’s tank setup is exactly right.

Make sure the temp and humidity are in the right place.

Place the tank somewhere with plenty of foot traffic, but not so much or so loudly it makes the beardy feel under attack.

Then, you need to work on bonding with your dragon, taming your bearded dragon, and looking for signs of affection.

Bonding

For more details on bonding with beardies, check out our guide, or read below for our tips on bonding for a quick look.

  1. Handling properly
  2. Bathing regularly
  3. Feeding by hand
  4. Calm down your bearded dragon
  5. Play and explore
  6. Spend time there periodically

Over time, what happens is your bearded dragon begins to associate your scent with positive experiences.

When it sees you in a positive light, it becomes less stressed by you and won’t wave arms as an attempt to survive from you.

Taming

Taming your beardy is similar to bonding but focuses on getting used to handling.

It’s not enough to simply pick it up, but you need to teach it to accept handling as a regular thing. 

Over time, some begin to show signs of liking it.

Here are our six tips on taming bearded dragons in brief.

For more details, check out the article.

  1. Pick up your pet safely
  2. Holding until the stop squirming
  3. Avoid bites
  4. Don’t harm the dragon when handling
  5. Spend time with the bearded dragon
  6. Expose the tank to regular traffic (but not threatening traffic from other pets)

In time, your beardy will get used to things this way, as well.

When they learn to like their home, they feel less stressed overall.

Signs Of Affection

Here are some common bearded dragon behaviors which show affection or at least trust.

For more details, read more on how to know if a bearded dragon likes you.

If you see start to see these signs, you’ll also start to see less arm-waving.


What Arm Waving Is Not

Even with all of this proven information, there are still some who will argue over why they do it.

We can only speculate with observation their exact motivation for waving, but there are some things we know it’s not.

Saying, “Hi!”

They don’t communicate “hello!” with us humans, as we do.

As smart as they are (smarter than most reptiles), they don’t say hello by waving.

Copying you

Even if you think you started the wave, or they’ve watched you do it, bearded dragons aren’t just copying your motions.

These reptiles don’t learn by watching; their most frequently used sense is smell.

Stretching

While it may look cute, arm-waving isn’t stretching each arm.

Showing affection

Some adamantly say waving shows affection.

They’ll argue how their beardy doesn’t run from them when arm-waving or anything like this.

It’s true.

Your beardy won’t run from you during arm-waving most likely. 

Remember, in nature, arm-waving is a last-ditch submission to a larger male or predator in an attempt to survive.

Is this what you want?


Conclusion

We hope you enjoyed reading about what it means when a bearded dragon waves.

Despite what some believe, it’s not a sign of like or recognition of you.

It’s a sign of stress, fear, and submission to a greater predator.

If you see this sign in captivity, you should make sure to bond and tame your bearded dragon while looking for new signs of affection.

When you see this sign, don’t panic!

It doesn’t mean your pet hates you.

All you need is to spend some time with him in a positive way to build your bond. 

Spend Less Time Figuring Out What To Do And More Time Enjoying Your Pet

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