Bearded Dragons bob their heads for many reasons. Once you get to know this language of funny nods, you will be able to read your pet’s behavior very well. So, what do Bearded Dragons mean when they head bob?
Reasons why bearded dragons bob their heads:
- To display dominance
- As part of a mating ritual
There is so much more to learn about your Bearded Dragons language of head-bobbing! Read on to discover how females use this language differently, why Bearded Dragons bob in their sleep, and how dangerous seizures can be mistaken for head bobbing.
Why Do Bearded Dragons Bob Their Heads?
Bearded Dragons bob their heads as part of their method of communication. They also use other forms of body language, color changes, and sound.
Bearded Dragons actually have a range of different ways to bob their heads, which they pair with other signals, to say different things.
Today I am going to demonstrate video examples of Bearded Dragons head bobbing for different reasons so that you can learn what it looks like.
Naturally, behavior can differ slightly from animal to animal, so what you Bearded Dragon does may not look exactly the same. However, it should give you a much better idea of what your pet is trying to say!
Tip: If you need more help with understanding your bearded dragon’s behavior, you should have a look at our Beardie Care Ebook Bundle here. It explains everything on beardie behavior, diet, tank setup, and much more!
The Quick Guide To Understanding Bearded Dragon Head Bobbing:
Head Bobbing To Show Submission
In both male and female Bearded Dragons, slow, small, or gentle repeated head bobs are a sign of submission. Usually, these slow head bobs are paired with a slow arm wave.
Your Bearded Dragon will lift and rotate one forearm after another, interspersed with little nods.
Much like a puppy that rolls on its back to show the belly, this is a sign of submission. It means “I recognize that you are dominant. I will not try to fight you. Please do not try to fight me.”
The Bearded Dragon in the video above is demonstrating these behaviors very clearly. Bearded Dragons use these signals when they encounter another Bearded Dragon.
In this way, it is a sign that can be used almost like a friendly “hello”.
Bearded Dragons will also begin these behaviors when another Bearded Dragon is showing signs of being territorial or aggressive.
Communicating their submission clearly and early on can help define the social hierarchy and avoid a fight.
So, why is your Bearded Dragon waving and head-bobbing at you? The reason is exactly the same!
Your pet is telling you “Hello. I recognize that you are bigger and more dominant, and provide delicious snacks. I will not try to attack you. Please don’t attack me.”
To a certain extent, a little greeting like this can be a positive sign from your pet, and is nothing to worry about. It may even be cause for a little smile every day!
However, the more your trust relationship with your Bearded Dragon grows, the less you should see this display.
Ideally, you want your pet to feel confident that after a moment of greeting, it can stop showing submission.
If you have had your Bearded Dragon for a while, it should not be displaying submission constantly or for long periods. It may feel stressed, insecure, or believe that you are a threat.
If you are always seeing long periods of submission signals, try working on increasing your trust relationship by using positive reinforcement.
Never grab at your pet or force it to be handled as it will increase anxiety, according to this study. Keep handling sessions short, and always pair your interactions with food and positive experiences.
Over time, it will learn to trust you, and will wave at you less.
Head Bobbing To Initiate Mating
This is done by males and by females.
Males Head Bob To Initiate Mating
When males want to mate with a female Bearded Dragon, they show their interest by head bobbing. It is a sharp movement, and quite easy to confuse with aggressive head bobs.
Partly, this is because you may or may not see a black beard paired with this head bob.
When males bob their heads to suggest mating, they often bounce their front legs and shoulders as well, in an over-excited, over-exaggerated movement.
Look at the first few seconds of the video below to see how the male (left) bobs his head at the female. Notice how he practically falls over!
Females Head Bob To Accept Mating
Females bob their heads during courtship and mating too! This is a very slow, deep head bob, again often using the upper body or forearms, as with the male.
Like with the other slow head-bob we talked about, this is a submissive gesture. A slow head bob means “I accept your flirtations and am ready to mate.”
Watch the video below to see the classic over-excited male mating head bobs, followed by the deep, slow bowing head bob of the female.
Territorial, Dominant Or Aggressive Head Bobbing
Bearded Dragons are very territorial and should always be housed alone. If they can see another Bearded Dragon, or any animal they deem a threat to their territory, they will defend their home.
They will also define a hierarchy of who is in charge. This is all done using body language, starting with head bobs! Males do these behaviors much more, but females can do them too.
Head Bobbing For Establishing Dominance
Level 1 is a simple head bob, without the use of coloration changes, sounds, or physical contact.
Even if a group of Bearded Dragons already has a hierarchy, dominant animals may head bob from time to time just to remind everybody that they are in charge.
This type of head bob is a sharp, strong movement from the neck. Take a look at the video below to see a Bearded Dragon give a few strong head bobs, accompanied by some pawing of the ground, flicking up dust.
This time, he keeps his shoulders drawn up high. Notice how the movement is also much more controlled and defiant than we saw with the mating head bobs.
Head Bobbing For Showing Building Aggression
Level 2 escalation of aggressive head bobbing includes that famous black beard! Bearded Dragons use their neck area for all kinds of communication and are able to change the color drastically in just a few minutes.
See how this male changes his beard from yellow to black in a very short time.
The darkened beard is a sign of frustration, aggression, dominance, and sometimes illness. A relaxed and happy Bearded Dragon doesn’t turn the beard black.
The video below shows how it is now paired with the dominating head bobs, just before the Bearded Dragon charges at another. The message is extremely clear.
Head Bobbing For Warning That Biting Or Fighting Is Imminent
If the head bobs with a black beard don’t work, then the Bearded Dragon has a few more tricks up its sleeve!
The next stage involves the Bearded Dragon puffing up his body to look as large and intimidating as possible.
Then, he will make hissing sounds, and gape the mouth open, warning that you will get bitten if you approach.
At this stage, you may or may not see further head bobs. Check out the video below to see a Bearded Dragon that is absolutely ready to bite.
Head Bobbing While Sleeping
Seeing your Bearded Dragon head bobbing when they are sleeping is quite confusing! It is likely that your Bearded Dragon is simply bobbing its head as it responds to stimuli such as sound.
Perhaps it was disturbed by waking up or falling deeper asleep and gave a quick head bob of annoyance! Who knows if Bearded Dragons may even dream?
However, there is another reason for head bobbing at night that definitely needs you to take action! Bearded Dragons need total darkness to sleep.
Many owners like to keep their tanks low-lit at night so that they can see their pets, or because they think they need to. Others may use decorative glowing lights, similar to the way people do with fish tanks.
Unfortunately, Bearded Dragons hate this and often bob their heads to show their frustration! Bearded Dragons need total darkness to sleep.
If it’s not dark, their circadian rhythm (understanding of day and night) can be disturbed. So, if you have some glowing lights where you keep your Bearded Dragons, and you often see them bobbing their heads at night, turn the lights off.
This will solve the problem and give your pets a good night’s sleep.
Why Recognizing The Cause Of Head Bobbing Is Important
Bearded Dragons evolved head bobbing behaviors over millennia in the wild to communicate with each other, and to ward off predators. However, this is also how they can communicate with you and other creatures in their household.
If your Bearded Dragon is constantly showing signs of aggression or excessive submission, try to find out why.
Understanding the cause can help you to determine how best to solve the problem. They are clearly stressed, insecure and feel threatened too often.
This is bad because feeling threatened causes stress. As a result, a hormone called cortisol is made by their body.
This increases the energy available in the bloodstream and allows them to focus on defending themselves or escaping. The levels of cortisol then reduce after the danger has passed.
Unfortunately, while it increases glucose and energy, cortisol suppresses other bodily functions like growth, digestion, and sleep.
Chronic stress that continues for long periods causes cortisol to stay high, and these functions to stay suppressed, for far too long. This is why chronic stress is so dangerous and eventually leads to serious illness.
How To Stop Or Reduce Head Bobbing In Bearded Dragons
If you are seeing signs of stress and fear frequently, assess your Bearded Dragon’s environment. Make sure everything about the habitat, diet, and routine of your pet is optimum.
Especially consider whether your Bearded Dragon has enough space, shelter, and privacy from other animals. You could add hides or screens to help him feel more protected.
A good thing to check would definitely be the lighting and reflective surfaces of your Bearded Dragon’s enclosure.
Sometimes, it might appear that your pet is head-bobbing at you, when in fact, it is head-bobbing at its own reflection!
Obviously, it is not good for your Bearded Dragon to think there is a rival living on the other side of the glass, so try to reduce this effect by altering the lighting.
Of course, you can also work on your trust relationship with your pet. This will help him feel less threatened by you.
Do this by using food to reinforce time that you spend together, but be careful not to over-feed.
False Head Bobbing Due To Seizures Or Fitting
There is one type of head bob that is very, very dangerous. In fact, it isn’t really a head bob at all but a totally involuntary movement.
Bearded Dragons can be prone to seizures. A seizure occurs when uncontrolled electrical signals in the brain override an individual’s ability to control their bodily movements.
It is a sign that something is very wrong.
Seizures do not always involve head bobs, but can sometimes be mistaken for bobs or other purposeful movements.
You can watch the video below to see a classic example of a seizure that appears at first to be a Bearded Dragon head bobbing. Please be aware that you may find it distressing.
What Causes Bearded Dragons To Have Seizures?
Seizures are a symptom of many late-stage dangerous illnesses and health problems. The most common causes of seizures in Bearded Dragons include Metabolic Bone Disease (MBD) and physical trauma such as a fall from a height.
Metabolic Bone Disease is a highly dangerous but easily preventable health problem that is common in reptiles.
To maintain healthy calcium levels, your pet needs calcium supplementation in their diet, as well as a good source of UVB light. UVB light allows the body to make Vitamin D3, which is essential for the uptake of calcium.
If your pet does not have these things, then the calcium that their body needs to maintain organ function will be drawn from their bones.
They will become lethargic, weak, easily injured, and permanently deformed. Eventually, they will start fitting and may even die if they do not receive veterinary treatment.
What You Should Do If Your Bearded Dragon Has A Seizure
Never try to physically restrain any individual that is having a seizure. They cannot control their muscle contractions, and as such, if you prevent them from moving, they may suffer further injury.
Instead, what you need to do is ensure that they are as safe as possible until the seizure passes. If your Bearded Dragon is in a high place, gently bring them down and place them somewhere safe.
Ensure there are no sharp objects around, or other dangers such as water bowls that they could fall into.
If they appear unable to breathe, gently hold them facing downwards, so that any fluid trapped in their airways can drain out.
Remember not to grip hard, as best you can. As soon as possible, take your Bearded Dragon to the vet for emergency diagnosis and care.
Is Head Bobbing Dangerous?
Overall, the answer is no. Head bobbing is an important part of a Bearded Dragon’s behavioral repertoire and is essential for communication. Head bobbing itself is not dangerous and will not injure your pet.
However, some types of head bobbing can tell you that your pet is unhappy or in danger. It can also warn you that your Bearded Dragon is feeling aggressive or defensive and that you may be at risk of being bitten.
Lastly, false head bobbing can be a sign that your pet is suffering a seizure and needs urgent medical attention.
So, now that you know your head bobs, you can better understand your Bearded Dragon. Good luck interpreting what they are saying to you, and remember the basics:
Slow head bobs are friendly and welcoming signs of submission.
Fast head bobs are signs of dominance, frustration, or building aggression.