If you have any interest in keeping reptiles, you probably have heard of bearded dragons. They are popular with reptile lovers, both for relative ease of care and for the fact that they are one of the few reptiles that take to being handled.
What you may not know is that there are different types of bearded dragon. There are eight or nine types, all subspecies of the species pogona. The ninth variety is a crossbreed between two subspecies, the Central and Rankin’s, that occurs both naturally and in captivity.
In addition, due to selective breeding, there are up to 22 types of dragons with different colors and color patterns, bred to produce the different colors and visual effects. With all the color variations, it is easy to mistake a color trait for a subspecies name, as the different color traits have their own names.
However, these color characteristics are not the actual name of the subspecies. In addition, there are terms for dragons bred for other characteristics, such as larger size and a certain type of skin produced by a mutated gene.
While all bearded dragons are native to Australia, the ones available in other countries have been bred in those countries, as Australia no longer permits their exportation. The price range for beardies of all species usually runs from $50-$300. Much of this depends on size, with juveniles being less expensive than adults.
Beardies with rare coloration or other traits may also cost more. Females tend to run a bit smaller in size than males, although this is not the case with the Central species.
Eight Types of Bearded Dragons That Make Great Pets
1] Eastern Bearded Dragon – This type is also called the common bearded dragon. It is also sometimes called a Jew lizard or a frilly lizard, although this last name can cause confusion with another reptile called the frill-necked lizard. They are usually found in the wooded parts of Australia. They grow up to 24 inches in length for males, and 20 inches for females.
They are usually grey-black or reddish, with the color getting darker in adults. Some also develop a slight yellow, blue or pale green tinge on their foreheads. The younger ones tend to have stronger color patterns than older adults.
They are active during the day and like to climb. They are a bit less docile than the Central species and less likely to tolerate a roommate. They eat plants, crickets, grasshoppers, worms, and even small mice and other reptiles.
2] Rankin’s Bearded Dragon – This beardie is also called the Pygmy Bearded Dragon, as it only gets up to about a foot long. They come from the Queensland area of Australia in hot, dry, rocky areas. While their looks are similar to the Central Bearded Dragon, the smaller size should help aid with the distinction, as will the shorter, more blunt snout.
They come in shades of brown, reddish and grey. They eat a range of insects and plants, and love to climb. Some tend to wave on their enclosure walls to indicate they want to come out.
3] Kimberley Bearded Dragon – This dragon is a bit brighter colored than some, coming in shades of brown, reddish or yellow. They grow up to 14 inches in length. The Kimberley comes from Western Australia and has a smaller neck frill than other beardies, and the scales and spikes are less prominent. While less is known about this particular subspecies versus some of the others, it doesn’t usually cost any more. They eat mainly insects.
4] Abrolhos Dwarf Bearded Dragon – Although these dragons are only found on three islands of the Wallabi Group at the Houtman Abrolhos, due to captive breeding they really don’t cost more than other types. They are usually grey-brown and grow up to 14 inches long, but 10 of those inches are the tail. They eat both insects and plants.
5] Dwarf Bearded Dragon – These beardies have a subspecies that is also found in the Wallabi Group of islands, but while they also grow up to 14-15 inches in length, they are actually larger than the Abrolhos subspecies, as they are more normally proportioned. They are usually colored grey-brown, with a smaller head than other types and a smaller beard.
This type is a little different from others as it eats only insects. This should be noted by anyone interested in purchasing one, as it makes feeding them a little more complicated.
6] North-West Bearded Dragon – This one is also known as Mitchell’s Bearded Dragon. While it is found in different habitats in northwestern Australia, including both desert and semi-tropical woodlands, this type is not usually available in the pet trade. It grows up to 18 inches in length and comes in colors of brown, red and yellow. They feature large, conical spikes on their heads. They eat both insects and plants.
7] Nullarbor Bearded Dragon – This is another less common species. It comes from the flat brushlands of southern Australia. It can get up to 14 inches long and comes in brown, red and yellow colors, with banding on the tail and often large white stripes on its back. They eat both plants and insects.
8] Central Bearded Dragon – This is the most common of the different types of bearded dragon kept as a pet. It can grow up to two feet long with half of that being tail. There isn’t a lot of difference between males and females, although the males tend to have a wider tail base and cloacal opening. The Central Bearded Dragon varies quite a bit in color, being available in shades of brown, yellow, red, orange and white. The different colors are usually the result of selective breeding.
They are naturally found in both arid and semi-arid woodlands and the rocky desert regions in the central part of Australia. These dragons are great climbers. They warm up in the morning by sunning themselves on branches or rocks, then switching to a burrow or other shady area in the heat of the day. While they eat both insects and plants, they tend to prefer plants once they reach sexual maturity.
What is a Leatherback Bearded Dragon?
A leatherback beardie has a mutated gene that affects the skin. It prevents his scales from growing to their full size, instead giving them a large number of smaller scales. This causes the lizard to both appear and feel smoother. It also causes the dragon’s color to be brighter. There is another related type called a silk back, which is produced by breeding two leatherbacks.
These dragons have scales so small that they look more like skin. Because both leatherbacks and silk backs display brighter colors, breeders who own them will usually breed them to produce unusual colors. Unfortunately, the silk back tend to have many health issues, so they are not for the novice owner.
What is the Rarest Bearded Dragon Color?
Breeder’s term the various colors morphs, as they usually produce colors and patterns not seen normally in nature. Besides color and pattern, scaling variations are also produced by selective breeding.
Some color patterns include the paradox, which consists of irregular patches of color, and the tiger-striped, which have dark, orange and grey stripes on the back running horizontally. Beardies also can change their color naturally to some extent to allow them to blend in more with their surroundings, and also may display a black beard when they feel threatened.
The rarest colors are blue and purple. These occur with the translucent breed, which is bred to have transparent spikes and scales. The babies typically have clear blue stomachs, although this color fades in a few months. Those that retain their blue or purple color when adults are very rare.
They have solid black eyes, although their eyes can change to yellow and back to black several times over their lifespans. Of course, the rarer and exotic the color, the more expensive the reptile will be. Some rarities also have more health problems to deal with, such as true albinos and silk backs. Check out my article What Does Different Colored Bearded Dragons Mean? for more info on color types.
What is the Most Common Bearded Dragon?
The Central Bearded Dragon is the most common dragon worldwide. Remember that you really can’t tell the species by the color, especially with all the color variations being bred into them. It’s best to purchase your dragon from a reputable pet store or breeder who can tell you exactly what you are getting and how to care for him.
In addition, if you are trying to get an exotic color, many dragons don’t exhibit their final colors until they are around two years old. A reputable breeder will be better able to tell you what the final result will be if you purchase a younger dragon but remember that there are no guarantees.
Also, with exotic colors, you need to be wary of newer breeders or those without recommendations, as the former may not be knowledgeable enough about the color results, and the latter may lie about colorations in order to make money.
What is the Best Age to Get a Bearded Dragon?
If you are a first-time owner, some sources recommend getting one that is at least six months old. At this age, he will be labeled a juvenile rather than a baby. Younger babies tend to need more care. They need to eat twice a day, for instance, while adults usually only need one feeding.
Even if you have had a dragon before, it’s recommended not to get one smaller than 6-8 inches long. Older ones will have fewer complications than really young ones. It’s also not a good idea to get a small group of babies. While it may seem like a good idea to raise them together, they can compete for food and even fight over it, injuring each other or resulting in one not getting anything to eat. Keeping a baby can be a challenge as it is, as some just refuse to eat.
Beardies tend to be territorial, and really don’t need the companionship of another. Even when purchasing a male and female for breeding purposes, they must be watched, as sometimes the male will attack the female. Be sure to get the right size enclosure for your dragons size, check out my article Bearded Dragon Enclosure Size [What Size Do You Need?] for more information.
How to Choose Your Bearded Dragon
As to whether to choose a male or female, there isn’t much difference except that males tend to be more outgoing. Females will actually lay infertile eggs even if a male is not available. She may need a little extra care in her diet before and after laying the eggs.
When looking at a potential dragon, ask the seller to pick him up and handle him. Don’t worry if he seems to be afraid and tries to get away, as he will be wary of an unfamiliar person being around. If he’s really scared, he may open his mouth to seem menacing, but it’s usually just for show.
Biting is very rare. If the dragon you’re looking at just seems to be aggressive and angry, it’s best to avoid this one. Some just have a crabby personality from the start, and it won’t get better.
Judging a beardie’s health for a buyer can best be done by observing his behavior. The dragon should have his head and body raised slightly while sitting or walking. He should be curious as to what’s happening around him, especially when you come close. If he doesn’t move and doesn’t look interested in anything, he may be sick, especially if he keeps his eyes closed for a long time.
Look also for signs such as mucus in the eyes or nose, froth at the mouth, swollen limbs, a kinked tail or bend in the back. He should be round and rather plump, not bony anyplace. Check him out for skin infections, mites or other parasites. These are usually tiny dots that are black or red.
They like to hide in skin folds and places such as under the arms and behind the hind leg joints. Be sure to check the vent opening for signs such as redness or fecal spots, which may indicate internal parasites. If your potential beardie is housed with others in the same cage, look the roommates over a bit as well, as any illness or parasites can easily be passed on. If cost is a issue on deciding if your going to get a bearded dragon read my article How To Set Up a Bearded Dragon Enclosure on the Cheap for ideas that can save you on your enclosure.
Bearded dragons are relatively long-lived reptiles that don’t require a lot of care, have a varied diet, and actually learn to enjoy your company. Since they are bred in the countries in which they are sold, there is no worry about their becoming rare in the wild. If you have any interest in keeping a reptile, investigating a beardie should be on your list.