Bearded Dragons - Why One is Enough

Published: 02nd April 2012
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In 2006 we purchased two bearded dragons. We had fully researched their care and their requirements for the vivarium and equipment, but had missed any information about whether bearded dragons should be kept on their own or in pairs or groups. Many of the books we referred to were written by breeders who talked about their set ups with a number of beardies. So we went into it a bit blind, with little knowledge and made the decision to get a pair.

Knowing that we wanted a male and female, the breeder that we had contacted had two clutches of eggs from two separate pairs of breaded dragons hatching around the same time. He accurately selected one from each group which would hopefully turn out to be male and female (although he did point out he had done his best to sex them, but could be wrong - a warning you should expect from any experienced breeder). The two young hatchlings were put together in a separate vivarium, so they were together from when they were less that a week old.

The bearded dragons, named Shrek and Fiona, came to us at 5 weeks of age, and were put immediately into a 5 ft vivarium where they appeared to be very happy. They interacted well, although at times seemed to treat each other as bits of furniture - one lying on top of the other with seeming disregard as to whether they were sitting on the other one's head! Although I had prepared my son that if they turned out to be two males they would need to be separated, as they matured Fiona started arm waving, and Shrek started head bobbing. They were definitely male and female.

We continued reading up about bearded dragons, and it was then that we found information about the dangers of keeping a male and female together. Mating wasn't so much a possibility, but a certainty! And the warnings were there that they could mate too early causing the female problems with laying eggs, and that the male, once having started, would continually mate with the female making her life a misery.

Well, sure enough, they did mate, but not until they were over a year old and both fully grown. So we counted ourselves very lucky. Seeing the eggs laid, watching them in the incubator and waiting for the hatchlings to emerge was something that gave us great pleasure. We had two clutches from that first mating - 37 babies were born in all, and in 2008 the market was not yet flooded with too many beardies so we managed to sell them all to good homes and made enough to cover the cost of feeding the hatchlings and buying the set ups for them. I was then worried about what would happen next, but Shrek and Fiona settled down, and the next mating did not occur for another 18 months. Again, I ticked this off as another success. Whilst advising other people not to get two bearded dragons, I smugly thought that it had worked for us - probably due to them having been together from just a few days old.

When the eggs hatched this time around, and the hatchlings grew, it was much harder to sell the babies - the price had dropped through the floor, and although we made enough to cover the food, and we would have made quite a loss had we not already had the equipment to raise them. We ended up keeping the last of the hatchlings until they were 4 months old just because it was so difficult to find them new homes.

After that, Shrek and Fiona did not breed again, and I wondered why seeing as there were so many warnings about over breeding. I started watching their behaviour closely. I noticed that Shrek would indeed start head bobbing and indicating he was feeling rather frisky, but Fiona - although much smaller (Shrek was a 700g giant!) she made her displeasure clear. They would circle around each other, and then Fiona would dart at him, making him back off. She'd then take refuge somewhere where mating was impossible - on the hammock, draped over a rock or a branch. Shrek would give up and go off and have a sulk. They would then go back to being their companionable selves again. Fiona was obviously boss.

In late 2011 Shrek developed tumours, and died in the spring of 2012. Having had the same companion for the whole of her life we worried how Fiona would behave, and even worried that she'd pine away. Although Shrek was put down by the vet, we let him die in the vivarium with Fiona - the anaesthesia they use does not work instantaneously on reptiles. The vet agreed taking him home to die was the best thing as most animals however react better when they understand their companion has died, rather than just disappeared. But as there's not a lot of research on bearded dragon behaviour, he couldn't comment on what the lasting effect on Fiona would be.

So what did happen? Well, Fiona did not mope. She did not stop eating. She started looking the best she'd ever looked in all her life with lovely colour. She became more active in the vivarium, more active when running about the house. Inquisitive, and though it's difficult to tell, she seemed happy. She was difinitely more relaxed.

I can only conclude that during the years they were together she had tolerated Shrek's presence, but actually is happier on her own without him. That took us by surprise!

In the wild bearded dragons live on their own - a male and female will only come together to mate. Although we tend to humanise our pets and believe that, like us, they will be unhappy if they live a solitary life in their vivariums, it would appear from our experience that they prefer living as they would do in their natural habitat. Alone.

On the forum and website I've been advising people never to buy a pair of bearded dragons as the chances of getting two males (who cannot be kept together), or a male and female from the same clutch which would result in breeding by siblings is too great. Coupled to that even females cannot be guaranteed not to fight. As it is nigh on impossible to sex a bearded dragon until adult - and even then even professionals can be mistaken - you really don't know what you're getting if you buy bearded dragons together.

But now I believe it's wrong to keep two as in our experience one is obviously happier on it's own. The problem is that we tend to think of animals as having the same emotions as us, but bearded dragons are not little humans - or even like some other pets.

Not much reserch has been done into the behaviour of bearded dragons, and scientists and reptile creatures are learning more and more by the day. They are living longer in captivity the more we learn about them, and the more we keep them as close to nature as possible. If you are considering getting a bearded dragon please do not get more than one - apart from the fact there is a good chance you will end up separating them which means either having to have the space and money for another large vivarium, or having to part with what has become a member of your family.

It's sad to think that Fiona might have been trying to tell us something for years, and we just weren't listening. We should respect how they live in the wild, and not force a companion on them


MyBeardedDragons website contains information for the new owner on how to keep a bearded dragon properly so that it is happy and healthy. An active forum dedicated to bearded dragons gives advice and support to new and experienced owners.

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