bearded dragon handbook

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Silkback Bearded Dragon Care & Requirements Guide

Silkback bearded dragons are different than regular bearded dragons because they do not have scales or protrusions on their back or stomach.

Silkbacks usually do not have any unusual coloration, but the color patterns are more vivid due to their lack of scales.

Since silkbacks have such a significant difference separating them from other bearded dragons, do they require specialized care?

As a general rule, silkback bearded dragons have different care requirements than other bearded dragons because they lack scales. Silkback bearded dragons tend to be more sensitive to light, heat, and dehydration. These reptiles may also have issues with shedding and mating.

Because of the specialized care silkback bearded dragons need, they are not recommended as a pet for beginner bearded dragon owners.

An experienced reptile keeper will recognize issues with a silkback more quickly than a beginner and make the necessary adjustments to keep the animal in good health.

Read on for more information on how silkback bearded dragons are created, how to set up a proper enclosure for them, what to include in their diet, and what kinds of issues to expect when it comes to mating and shedding.

silkback bearded dragon care
Photo courtesy of CB Reptile

How Are Silkback Bearded Dragons Created?

Unlike other traits, which are controlled by multiple genes, the silkback attribute is the result of only one gene mutation. 

Introducing this gene into a breeding colony will produce a silkback beardie, while other traits may take several generations to establish.

The silkback trait is thought to be an incomplete dominant mutation. 

Bearded dragons having one copy of this mutated gene will have different physical characteristics than animals lacking the gene. 

These fancy reptiles will have very few scales, and these scales will be smaller than usual as well. 

Bearded dragons with these traits are known as “leatherbacks.”

A true silkback bearded dragon will have two copies of the mutated gene. 

This means to produce a silkback beardie, you will have to mate two leatherbacks for a 25% chance, two silkbacks for a 100% chance, or a leatherback with a silkback for a 50% chance.

The silkback trait originated from one unusual-looking beardie hatched in Italy, but now the gene has spread worldwide. 

This has given many reptile keepers in the United States, Canada, and Europe access to breeding silkbacks.

Setting Up An Enclosure For A Silkback Bearded Dragon

Because they lack thick scales on their body to protect them, there should only be smooth surfaces within a silkie’s enclosure. 

Food dishes, basking logs, and any other enclosure accessories should be smooth. 

You should also provide ample space for your silkback, so it does not get its skin or toes pinched in between any items. 

A silkback’s skin is easily bruised as well.

The humidity of a silkback’s enclosure should be around 50%, slightly higher than the 20%-30% humidity of a regular bearded dragon’s habitat. 

Invest in a good hygrometer to monitor the humidity in your reptile’s enclosure.

It is essential to monitor your silkback beardie for any signs of shedding. 

Many beardies will rub their faces and other parts of their body against other surfaces to remove loose skin and relieve the itchiness they feel. 

This rubbing may cause tears in the skin with silkies because they do not have scales to protect them.

The substrate in the enclosure for a silkback should also be smooth. 

Avoid using loose particle substrates because they likely contain gritty materials. 

These gritty particles are likely to tear the skin of your silkback, so a smooth substrate such as paper towels or reptile tiles is a better option.

To keep your silkback from damaging its skin while shedding, use an aloe vera moisturizing spray made especially for reptiles. 

This spray will keep your silkbacks skin moist and will help to cut down on the itchiness your reptile is experiencing. 

Never peel any loose skin from your silkback bearded dragon, as this will not only cause your pet pain, it will lead to a skin infection.

What is the Best Lighting for a Silkback Bearded Dragon?

Since silkback dragons do not have protective scales like normal bearded dragons, they are thought to be more sensitive to strong UVB lighting.

Because of this, it is best to choose lights with low levels of UVB rays instead of the stronger UVB bulbs used in most bearded dragon enclosures. 

This lower-level UVB lighting will still provide your silkback with the UVB rays it needs to stay healthy while keeping your pet safe from sunburn and overheating.

In addition to the proper lighting, you should ensure your silkback beardie has plenty of shaded areas to hide in. 

This gives your silkback some areas to go when it needs to retreat from the UVB lights.

How To Ensure Proper Hydration for a Silkback Bearded Dragon

Silkback bearded dragons are highly prone to becoming dehydrated, which creates a perilous situation for your pet.

The most common signs of dehydration in beardies are wrinkled skin and sunken eyes

While too much water is hard on a silkback’s kidneys, it is vital to ensure your reptile gets enough hydration to keep it in good health.

Add more hydration to your silkback’s diet by lightly misting their greens and insects right before feeding time. 

The feeder insects themselves should also be adequately hydrated and fed.

Give your feeder insects fresh greens, water, and a vitamin supplement specially formulated for them. 

The more nutrition you give to your feeder insects, they will pass more essential nutrients to your beardie.

Never force water into your silkback, primarily through a syringe. 

There is a possibility of chipping teeth in young beardies or causing gum damage. Damage to the gum line not only causes pain but may also lead to a mouth infection.

Giving your silkback bearded dragon frequent baths is a much more effective way to hydrate the reptile and moisten its skin. 

Baths are also helpful when your silkback goes through the shedding process, as it helps to loosen any stuck skin.

You should never use oils, such as olive or coconut oil to moisten your silkback’s skin. 

This creates a dangerous risk for burns when your beardie is under its basking light. 

It is much safer to use organic vegetable glycerin or pure cocoa butter if you feel your silkback’s skin is too dry.

What Is In A Silkback Bearded Dragon’s Diet?

A silkback dragon’s diet is the same as a regular bearded dragon’s diet. 

For an adult silkback, this means its diet should consist of 20% live insects and 80% leafy greens and vegetables.

Excellent staple feeder insects include crickets, dubia roaches, and small locusts. 

Hornworms, silkworms, and wax worms should all be fed sparingly as a treat because they are high in fat. 

Never feed your silkback wild insects because they are highly likely to carry parasites and other diseases.

Nutritious vegetables such as the following are all essential staples to include in your silkback’s diet:

  • Squash
  • Dandelion greens
  • Bell pepper 
  • Turnip greens

Rhubarb is exceptionally toxic to bearded dragons, and they should avoid it at all times.

In addition to a varied insect diet and nutritious vegetables, it is vital to add a calcium and multivitamin supplement to your silkback’s diet. 

Supplements come in powder form, and you use them by lightly dusting your beardie’s food right before feeding time.

To lightly coat insects, place them in a plastic bag or container with a small amount of the supplement powder, and gently shake to coat them. 

Avoid caking too much powder onto your beardie’s food because the supplements will make it less palatable to your pet.

Be sure to remove any uneaten insects from your silkback’s enclosure after 15-20 minutes. 

This prevents any remaining insects from nipping and biting your beardie, and causing it stress.

Always provide your silkback with clean, fresh water every day to help keep your pet hydrated. 

Even if your beardie doesn’t drink the water, it will likely soak in it for hydration.

Issues With Mating A Silkback Bearded Dragon

Since silkbacks do not have the same protective scales as normal bearded dragons, they are easily injured.

During mating, female dragons are likely to suffer a wound from the male biting them on the neck. 

This is normal behavior for reptiles but dangerous for female silkbacks because they may suffer from severe lacerations. 

Not only do these bites cause a female silkback a lot of pain, but they make her prone to very serious, sometimes life-threatening, skin infections.

Many breeders avoid using female silkbacks to breed more silkies and instead choose to breed a male silkback with a standard or leatherback female beardie. 

If a female silkback is used for mating, you should seek veterinary attention to address any severe wounds and prevent any infections from forming.

Many breeders also question the ethics of breeding silkback beardies due to the health issues, poor eating habits, and shorter lifespan they have. 

Because they have no scales for protection, baby silkbacks are more likely to lose limbs due to injury or stuck shed, causing circulation problems.

Difficulty Shedding In A Silkback Bearded Dragon

Silkies tend to shed more than normal bearded dragons, and they often have problems with stuck shed.

Be sure to check your silkback’s tail and toes every day for any signs of a stuck shed. 

If dead skin is allowed to build up in these areas, constriction occurs, and the lack of bloodflow causes necrosis, which will lead to tail and limb amputations.

You should never help your silkback with any stuck shed, as pulling on the loose skin may lead to tears and bruises on their skin. 

These tears could become infected and cause death to your silkie.

Bathing your silkie in warm water twice every day will help your pet shed the dead skin more easily. 

Rubbing a small amount of organic vegetable glycerin very gently on the areas with stuck shed will moisten the skin and loosen the stuck pieces.

With regular skincare, a proper diet, and good hydration practices, your silkback is less likely to have any issues during the shedding process. 

Just remember to be patient and let your reptile complete the process in its own time.

If you see any stuck shed building up and causing constriction anywhere on your silkie’s body, it is best to seek the care of an exotic veterinarian right away for safe skin removal. 

Particular attention should be paid to the head, tail, and limbs, as these are the most likely areas for a stuck shed to build up very quickly. 

Removing stuck shed from your beardie is painful for them, and it is a delicate process only a professional should undertake.

Are Silkback Bearded Dragons Good For Beginners?

Normal bearded dragons make excellent pets for beginner reptile owners. 

Unfortunately, with all special care requirements, silkback beardies are not a good choice for new beardie owners. 

Only experienced reptile keepers are equipped to handle the complex husbandry needs of a silkback.

If you are new to owning reptiles and have your heart set on a bearded dragon, it is best to start with the typical variety and go from there. 

Normal bearded dragons are not only less expensive, but they are not as delicate as silkies.

Silkbacks have incredibly delicate skin, and any type of injury to them is likely to be a severe issue. 

Because the skin is so thin, even the slightest cut or abrasion will cause a lot of bleeding for a silkback. This is not something you want to deal with as a new bearded dragon owner.

Because of their delicate nature, many breeders refuse to breed or sell silkbacks to anyone because they believe it is unethical. 

Due to their controversy, silkbacks typically sell for much less than other morphs, including leatherbacks. 

Silkbacks may also be more difficult to find as more breeders decide the species is unethical.

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