Understanding your Bearded Dragon’s behavior can help you understand your pet’s needs and build a great relationship with them. One of the most misunderstood behaviors of Bearded Dragons is waving, which many people seem to think means “hello”. However, the reality is much more complex.
Bearded Dragons sometimes wave by slowly circling one arm after the other. They do this as a sign of submission, directed toward a more dominant animal. This helps Bearded Dragons avoid the risk of fights to establish a dominance hierarchy. They may also wave at predators as a pursuit deterrent.
So, that’s what Bearded Dragons really mean when they wave their arms. But then, why is your pet waving at you? Or waving when it is alone? What could it mean then? Read on to discover more about why Bearded Dragons wave their arms.
Why Bearded Dragons Wave Their Arms
Bearded Dragons wave their arms to show submission (Brattstrom, Bayard H, 1971). But, why would they do that, and what does it mean?
In nature, fighting other animals is very dangerous. Even if an animal wins a fight, it could still be injured. As a result, it might suffer illness, infection, or become unable to hunt or defend itself in the future.
Because of this, animals have evolved many ways to establish who is in charge (dominant) and who is weaker (submissive), without coming to a physical fight.
Bearded Dragons actually have a very complex method of establishing dominance and submission. They use waving, head bobbing, color changes, sound, and other movements to work out who is going to get the territory, food, or mate.
Do Both Male And Female Wave?
Yes, both male and female Bearded Dragons use waving to signal submission. Many people think that only female Bearded Dragons do this.
This is a myth, probably caused by the fact that when people see Bearded Dragons together, it is usually for mating. It is much more likely that the female will be the submissive animal, and therefore females are seen waving more often.
How To Find Out Why Your Bearded Dragon Is Waving
What It Means If Your Bearded Dragon Waves In These Situations
The decision tree above should have helped you find out why your bearded dragon is waving.
Below you can find out more about that and later in this article we show you what you can do if your bearded dragon is waving all the time.
Why Your Bearded Dragon Waves At Other Bearded Dragons
Bearded Dragons usually wave their arms when they encounter another, stronger Bearded Dragon.
Bearded Dragons that realize that they are the weaker animal facing a more dominant animal wave a message of submission to save themselves from being attacked.
After the initial meeting with a new animal, they may still wave their arms whenever they meet their dominant acquaintance.
This appears to be a “hello”, but it’s actually a greeting to restate that they still respect them and do not want to challenge them.
It means something like: “Hello. I see that you are bigger and stronger. I will not try to challenge you. Please do not attack me.”
Why Your Bearded Dragon Waves At You
Bearded Dragons wave at their owners for the same reason that they wave at stronger Bearded Dragons…to avoid conflict by showing submission.
To a certain extent, this can be good. It is better to have a pet that believes that you are in charge than one who acts dominantly or even aggressively toward you.
It is possible that your Bearded Dragon may even greet you in this way every day.
Because we anthropomorphize the behavior in our minds as if they were waving “hello”, it can become a cute little habit.
Your pet probably won’t understand, but feel free to wave back! However, your Bearded Dragon should only wave for a moment or two.
Tip: Wanna learn more about beardie behavior and language? Check our article here!
Why Bearded Dragons Wave During Mating
Females may also wave as a part of the courtship ritual. It is not fully known whether waving is a sign of acceptance of the male, or only of submission to him with regard to dominance.
When females want to mate with the male, they usually show other signs as well as waving. They give a very distinctive, slow, low head nod, and may walk in slow circles.
The female in the video below is doing a great job of showing submission and acceptance. She slowly waves repeatedly, and then gives a slow, exaggerated head bob.
You can see the much larger male displays a very different, rapid head bob and does not wave his arms.
Why Bearded Dragons Wave At Nothing (Their Reflection)
If you have a Bearded Dragon that you keep alone, but have noticed that he waves his arms, you might be confused now. There are a few reasons why Bearded Dragons who are kept alone might wave.
The first, as we covered above, might be that he is waving at you. It is likely, however, that he is responding to something that you haven’t noticed, that he believes is a threat.
For example, birds outside the window, a scary-looking toy, or a vibration from a passing train that you can’t feel.
Another reason could be that he can see his own reflection in the glass of his habitat. When this happens, the Bearded Dragon will think that he can see a rival in the glass!
He is waving to show submission to his own reflection. While this might seem a little funny, it actually can cause a lot of stress.
Why Bearded Dragons Wave At Predators
Research into wild lizards shows that the signal of waving not only reduces the chance of attack from dominant animals, but also from potential predators (Vicente, 2019), (Font et al., 2012).
Bearded Dragons and other lizards wave not only at their conspecifics (animals of the same species), but also at both potential and known predators. This is called pursuit-deterrent signaling.
The lizard waves to show the predator that he has already seen him coming. The predator then knows that catching this lizard is going to be more difficult, and may give up immediately.
Overall, the waving signal works very well for all levels of potential threat, whether it is a known predator, or a potential predator such as a strange, large lizard.
The threatening animal will either understand the submission signal and may allow the waver to remain unharmed, or it will think twice about trying to eat prey that is prepared for attack.
Bear this in mind when you see your Bearded Dragon waving at your cat, bird, or child. From the perspective of your Bearded Dragon, he could be in a stressful situation, and believe he could be eaten at any moment.
Why Your Bearded Dragon Is Waving And Head Bobbing At The Same Time
When Bearded Dragons wave, they may also display head bobs. You can read more about the language of head bobbing here.
These head bobs are slow and gentle. This is still a message of submission. Take a look at a fantastic example of waving and head bobbing below.
Can Waving In Bearded Dragons Also Be Bad?
No, waving is a normal part of a Bearded Dragon’s behavioral repertoire. It is not bad or harmful in itself. It is in fact an essential skill for social interaction, as we learned above.
Excessive Waving Can Signal Chronic Stress
Unfortunately, excessive waving is a bad sign. Think about it like this. Your pet has been using his body language to shout “I will not try to challenge you. Please do not attack me!” over and over again.
If he keeps on doing this and won’t stop, it shows that your pet feels that he is in danger, and there is still a chance you may attack him.
The same goes if you are observing this behavior among a social group that you are keeping together. Bearded Dragons are solitary animals and should not be kept in groups.
They are very territorial, and this living situation causes conflict. If one individual is waving excessively, it is the suppressed animal of the group and might be suffering from chronic stress.
Chronic stress is very dangerous to your Bearded Dragon’s health. The glucocorticoid (stress hormone) corticosterone allows a reptile’s body to use extra energy to overcome challenges and escape attacks.
However, it also suppresses other bodily functions like digestion, growth, and immune response. When cortisol levels stay high for a long time, this causes damage and disease (Sopinka et al., 2015).
Excessive Waving Can Lead To Aggression
Excessive waving could easily transition into aggressive behavior toward you or within a social group. Even if the Bearded Dragon is submissive, if he feels that he is threatened he will eventually change tactics and try to defend himself.
The result is that you have a fearful animal that suddenly puffs up, turns black, and may start hissing and trying to bite.
This is bad for you as an owner who would like to handle your pet. It could also lead to fights and injuries among groups of Bearded Dragons.
How To Stop Excessive Waving In Bearded Dragons
Now it is clear why prolonged waving and excessive submissive behaviors could be red flags. Let’s look at how we can change your Bearded Dragon’s experience to help them feel less defensive and prevent chronic stress.
Stop Excessive Waving In Bearded Dragons That Live Together in One Tank
The answer to this one is super simple! Bearded Dragons shouldn’t be housed together, so separate them. Beyond that, you should also separate them visually.
You can use screens to achieve this. If they are in separate tanks but can still see each other, the waving may not stop.
If it is not at all possible to separate your Bearded Dragons, the next best thing would be giving them more space. This will reduce the competition for territory. You can achieve this by purchasing a larger tank.
Furthermore, place more features that allow for shelter and separation. Add more hides, more branches, plants, and so forth. This will allow the Bearded Dragons to have some respite from each other.
Tip: If you’d like to put some plants in your bearded dragon tank but don’t know how that works or what plants you can take, read our guide on that here!
Stop Excessive Waving In Bearded Dragons That Are Living Alone
First, try and identify what your Bearded Dragon is waving at. If he can see another pet, child, or even a creepy object, then remove this from view. This simple change could allow your pet to relax and feel safer.
If you can’t find any intended recipient of the waving, assess the habitat from the perspective of your Bearded Dragon. Is it possible that he can see a reflection of himself?
Does he have any shelter to provide privacy, or is he exposed by glass on all sides?
An easy fix that could make a huge difference is to adjust the lighting and add more plants and hides or decorations like these. Change the positioning and intensity of the lighting to reduce reflections.
Try adding plants (natural, if possible), to provide a visual barrier on 3 sides of the tank. If reflections are still a problem, you could treat the glass with an anti-glare coating.
If none of this works, look to eliminate any other cause of stress. Check that the temperature, humidity, enclosure size, and UVB lighting are optimal. Find out how to set up a habitat for your Bearded Dragon by clicking here.
Stop Excessive Waving From Your Bearded Dragon To You
If you are seeing excessive waving as a response to your presence, you can work on building a positive relationship of trust with your pet. These are the golden rules to follow if you want your pet to build trust in you:
- Always ensure your interactions are positive experiences.
- Use food to reinforce positive interactions.
- Keep training sessions short.
- Work in progressive steps such as short touches, petting, being picked up, etc.
- Never grab at or restrain your pet if he doesn’t want to be handled.
- Always respect your pet’s communication.
- If you see signs of defensive aggression, back off a little, but don’t end the session completely. Ending the session completely will reinforce the aggressive behavior.
- When he calms down, reward the calmness.
If you follow these basic guidelines, then over time your pet will learn that you are not a threat.
It is likely that he will even associate you with food and other positive experiences such as head rubs and playing outside the tank. As the trust grows, the excessive waving should reduce.
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Stop Excessive Waving During Mating
This is a little more tricky to interpret. It is totally OK if your female Bearded Dragon is waving during courtship and mating. However, look for other positive signs of willingness such as:
- Approaching or circling the male
- Giving slow, deep head bobs
- Staying a neutral color
These signs suggest that the female is simply waving to signal submission or acceptance to the male. She is probably willing to mate. However, if you see:
- Running away
- Fast, jerky head bobs
- Foot kicking or stamping
- Turning black in the beard
- Puffing up
- Open mouth
It is likely that the female is not willing to mate. She started by signaling submission, but later changed to defensive aggression. She seems to feel threatened by the dominant male. Stop this by separating the two Bearded Dragons.
Below, you can see a great example of a female Bearded Dragon that does not want to accept the male. She is large, and shows aggressive head bobbing, puffing up, and a black beard.
When the male jumps on her, she waves a signal of submission. Soon after, she runs away and gives many aggressive signals again.