6 Reasons Why Bearded Dragons Play Dead -(Tips To Know)

We can all agree that captive bearded dragons are unique pets. They exhibit some of the weirdest and most fascinating behaviors among reptile pets. Despite the amusement they present, these special habits sometimes make it hard to tell whether the lizards are okay or in some form of trouble.

So, do bearded dragons play dead?

Naturally, bearded dragons don’t play dead unless they’re gravely terrified or stressed. Nevertheless, they have the ability to hold their breath for exceptionally long stretches. Thus, beardies can play dead in some circumstances such as during brumation, shedding, due to parasitic or infection attacks, or to evade predation.

Why Do Bearded Dragons Play Dead?

Possibly the best way to tell whether your bearded dragon is playing dead or is in trouble is to investigate whether they’ve acted this way before. 

Additionally, consider the condition of the beardie, terrarium, and surrounding environment to determine whether any of them are causing your lizards to play dead.

If your beardie has played dead before, they may simply be cheeky and you have nothing to worry about. Just observe them without interaction from a distance where they can’t see you.

In case your sudden presence had frightened them into feeling hunted, the lizards will slowly resume normal breathing and activity.

On the other hand, something within your beardie or their terrarium is most certainly amiss if the pets suddenly start playing dead.

Scientists and philosophers agree on this fact: Experience is the best teacher- and it’s true for beardies and their owners.

Many months or years of close interaction with a bearded dragon can help you to learn and understand their habits.

If they’ve never played dead before and suddenly take up the behavior, they’re badly stressed, ill, or unfortunately dead.

Let’s dive a little deeper into the various situations where bearded dragons play dead:

1. Playing Dead for Fun

In some instances, bearded dragons play dead deliberately. For example, some beardie owners claim that their pet lizards hold their breath, shut their eyes, and lie lifeless to avoid bathing. In another case, a beardie plays dead but immediately pops an eye open when their owner picks them up.

In most cases where bearded dragons play dead for fun, they do it deliberately to avoid discomfort and potentially stressful situations.

There’s nothing the beardie owners should worry over in these cases. However, keeping your lizards’ artificial habitat clean, comfortable, and safe prevents the pets from playing dead due to discomfort.

2. The Primal Response

We’ve already established that bearded dragons can hold their breath for up to ten minutes or more. In nature, the beardies leverage this and other tactics such as lying motionless to provide perfect cryptic coloration (camouflage) against their predators and prey.

Once the predator or prey relax, the seemingly dead beardie gets a perfect opening to escape or strike.

In the same way, captive bearded dragons can play dead intentionally if they feel threatened inside their tank.

In most cases, this happens when you keep more than one beardie in the same cage, place multiple beardie tanks close to each other, or the beardie sees strange surroundings such as beardies or other creatures from their tank.

Here’s the truth: Bearded dragons are naturally solitary and territorial creatures. Thus, they interpret the presence of other beardies, creatures, or strangers as competition or threats to their lives, food, peace, or space. If agitation doesn’t drive the threat away, beardies become awfully stressed and could play dead.

3. Brumation

Like some mammals that undergo hibernation, some breeds of bearded dragons often go though brumation during extremely cold seasons. The process helps the lizards to save food, water, energy, and other resources over the cold season.

Likewise, some captive beardies undergo some form of brumation. However, brumation is rare in caged bearded dragons as you can provide ideal living conditions throughout the year. Even then, brumation is an instinctive beardie response that shouldn’t worry you when it kicks in.   

During brumation, bearded dragons act as if they’re dead in many ways. Besides breathing less frequently than normal, they:

  • Eat little or nothing due to reduced appetite and metabolism
  • Appear frail and are lethargic
  • Bask less
  • Don’t like being handled, so they stay still even when you poke or attempt to play with them
  • Poop little and less frequently
  • Burrow and bury themselves under the substrate or other hiding spots
  • Take longer and have trouble waking up
  • Are generally weaker and less active than normal  

If you observe these symptoms in your beardie, along with playing dead, they could be gearing up for brumation in a few weeks.

Nevertheless, a fit beardie appears healthy, retains their weight through brumation, and responds to handling and bathing.

Unfortunately, many beardie owners wrongly assume their pets are ill or have a parasitic attack during brumation.

They may attempt waking up, force-feeding or playing with their inert lizard pets. Though first-time brumation can be worrisome, subsequent brumation often follows similar patterns.

4. Parasites, Illness, and Disease

In some cases, a bearded dragon’s appearance mimics death due to parasitic attacks, illness, or disease. On top of this, an ailing beardie’s behavior might appear similar to a dying or dead one including:

  • Extremely shallow breathing
  • Completely depleted fat pads
  • Sunken, droopy, and half-open eyes
  • Weight loss
  • Discolored skin (dull or grey) at times when they aren’t shedding
  • Acute discomfort and stress evidenced by severe panting, glass-surfing, scratching, and digging
  • They turn generally lethargic, unresponsive, and uninterested
  • Little movement and lots of sleep and inactivity on the cool side of the tank even when it’s not brumation season
  • Sudden  fall of appetite along with refusing to eat for a prolonged period
  • Labored movement that involved dragging themselves

In most cases, bearded dragons that are ailing from a disease or parasitic attack rarely look like themselves.

But there’s more. Possibly the worst thing about an ailing beardie is that they eventually die if the underlying problem isn’t treated in time.

5. Shedding

Like other lizards, bearded dragons undergo periodic skin and scale shedding in their lives. At such times, your lizards are likely to play dead. However, shedding in beardies is accompanied by multiple other tell-tale signs such as:

  • Skin turning grey in patches
  • Skin flaking
  • Eating  less (in quantity and frequency) than normal
  • Reduced liking and tolerance to handling

6. Death

In some cases, you may presume that a beardie is playing dead while they’re actually deceased. Although it’s distressing to the owner, bearded dragons die like other pets for various reasons including:

  • Impaction
  • Malnourishment
  • Unfavorable tank conditions such as high or low temperatures ,unsuitable humidity, and improper UVB light setup
  • Parasitic attacks and infections
  • Illnesses and diseases such as gout, Metabolic Bone Disease (MBD), and fatty liver disease
  • Egg-binding (dystocia)
  • Food poisoning and vitamin toxicity from ingesting contaminated foods and over-supplementation
  • Extreme stress levels
  • Choking on food, water, or loose substrate
  • Old age

You need to rule out all other possibilities of your beardie playing dead to ascertain that they’re really deceased. Here are a few indications that your lizard could have passed away:

  • They aren’t breathing at all
  • The beardie ceases moving and doesn’t respond to any stimulation. For instance, their eyelids don’t blink upon being touched
  • Dilated eye pupils that don’t react at all to bright light
  • Skin turns from soft and flexible to waxy and inflexible
  • Beardie is unresponsive even when placed on their back or side. Normally, bearded dragons have difficulty breathing on their side and back, thus wriggle back to an upright state unless they’re dead
  • Body color changes to pale yellow or grey on the top while the beard and lower body turn black or a dark shade due to blood pooling
  • Sunken eyes that roll back, close completely, or partially, and lose their shine
  • Unnaturally limp jaws and unresponsive mouth even when you place something inside it
  • Fluids leaking from the mouth and nose
  • Foul smell leaving the body after a few days.
Bearded Dragon Playing Dead

How to Tell Whether a Bearded Dragon Is Playing Dead?

It’s relatively easy to presume that your beardie is dead while in reality they’re only playing dead due to the similarities in appearance.

Since the lizards can play dead deliberately or instinctively for various reasons, it’s critical to establish the precise reason for the behavior to resolve the issue correctly.

Here are a few handy tips to help you determine why your beardie is playing dead:

1. Observe their Overall Appearance

A beardie of sound health is naturally health-looking. If they appear healthy and normal behavior patterns check but they still play dead, they’re simply playing dead to evade a minor discomfort or avoid being disturbed.

On the other hand, beardies that are sick, dying, or undergoing brumation exhibit specific symptoms as illustrated above. You’ll have to monitor your reptile pet’s appearance more closely to determine whether they’re acting dead due to parasites, an illness, brumation, or they’re actually in the process of dying.

2. Check the Body Color

A healthy bearded dragon’s body looks lively, flexible, is consistent throughout the body, and doesn’t change when the lizard plays dead. Contrary to this, the tone and consistency of ailing, shedding, brumating, and dying beardies change as we’ve seen above.    

3. Monitor the Behavior

Healthy beardies are typically active, playful, and avid feeders. They’re also solitary and territorial reptile that turn aggressive or get stressed out by the presence of other beardies, pets, or other creatures in or around their tank.

On the other hand, the behavior of brumating, sick, dying, or shedding beardies deviates from the norm. Such lizards are unusually inactive, bored, and eat much less than normal due to a loss of appetite and reduced metabolism.    

4. Examine their Reactions to various Stimuli 

In normal circumstances, a bearded dragon that’s playing dead responds to various stimuli as long as they’re healthy. They’re bound to wriggle away, bat their eyes open, scratch a little, dash away, or burrow under the substrate or hides when you touch them, splash a little water, feed them, or light them up with a flashlight.

Then again, a beardie that’s playing dead and doesn’t respond to various stimuli is most likely suffering from an illness or parasitic attack or is n brumation. At worst, a lack of response could mean that your beloved lizard has already met their maker.

What Should you Do if your Beardie is Playing Dead?

As we’ve seen, bearded dragons can play dead for different reasons. The most important thing to do in case yours takes up the habit is to act from a point of knowledge and experience. Don’t panic as the reptiles can hold their breath and act dead for unusually long period.

Nevertheless, beardies rarely play dead for fun. In most instances, the behavior is an instinctive reaction to an underlying complication in their body, habitat, diet, or surroundings.

Therefore, it’s vital to review and resolve the situation as soon as possible to save your pet lizard from the discomfort, pain, stress, and potential death.

But possibly the best way to solve the issue is by preventing it from happening in the first place. I can almost hear you asking how to prevent a bearded dragon from playing dead. Well, here are some tips:

  • Check on your beardie regularly to ascertain that they’re living, breathing, feeding, pooping, moving, basking, playing, and sleeping as they should. Don’t only visit the terrarium during the feeding and cleaning times
  • Give immediate special attention to any bearded dragon that’s playing dead or exhibiting any other abnormal behavior
  • If your beardie is acting dead because they’re in brumation, leave them alone. Don’t try force-feeding, playing with or nursing the lizard as it may stress them out more
  • First try to revive a beardie that’s playing dead by giving them sufficient warmth and stimulation. Warm them up in the basking area before picking them up and gently feeling their breathing
  • In case your beardie is acting dead and doesn’t seem to be breathing, try to stimulate them by tenderly rubbing the belly or other soft spots. If they respond to your stimulation, place them back softly in their tank as they might be in brumation
  • Ensure you feed your beardies with sufficient and correctly balanced-out food and water in the right frequency to guarantee healthy growth and prevent diet-related complications. Remember to supplement the diet with the correct amounts and type of nutrients for all-round healthy living
  • Keep the terrarium clean to avert parasitic infections along with dirt and pathogen-borne illnesses
  • Maintain recommended UVB lighting setup, temperature, and humidity levels in the beardie tank
  • Take your pet out of their cage and then closely inspect their feet, belly, and all hidden body parts for any parasitic or other infection. Treat any condition you discover fully to prevent your pet from playing dead in future, along with other complications
  • Promptly take your bearded dragon to a herpetologist or specialized reptile pet vet if you discover that they’re acting dead due to an infection. Only then will you get an accurate diagnosis and prognosis to resolve the issue and save your precious pet from unnecessary suffering and untimely demise

In any case, avoid using isolated symptoms to determine why your beardie could be acting dead. A few isolated symptoms may point at heightened stress levels or a natural process like brumation.

In contrast, multiple symptoms might indicate an acute illness, parasitic attack, or the onset of death. In such cases, a licensed reptile vet is your best bet at resolving the problem to save your bearded dragon.

bearded dragon playing dead

Frequently Asked Questions

Do Dead Bearded Dragons’ Eyes Stay Open?

Beardies sometimes die with their eyes open or partially open. However, their eyes remain closed if they were asleep or closed at the time of death.

In most cases, the state (open or closed) of dead beardies depends on the state at the time of death.

Are Dead Bearded Dragons Cold?

Unlike mammals that generate their own body heat, beardies are cold-blooded creatures that rely on the heat from their surroundings. Thus, the temperature of a dead bearded dragon often depends on the temperature in their habitat.

For instance, a dragon that dies at the warm basking area light would feel warmer than one that expires in the cooler areas.

Nevertheless, the temperature of a beardie’s body isn’t enough to determine whether they’re alive or dead. Remember beardies undergoing brumation are colder than their active counterparts.

Therefore, you need to consider other factors to ascertain whether the lizards are still alive or dead.

Does a Dead Bearded Dragon Remain Stiff?

A deceased beardie stays stiff for some time before turning limp. After about six hours of death, a process called ‘rigor mortis’ sets in and causes the carcass’ muscles to stiffen. Nonetheless, the stiffness wears off after 24-48 hours.

Unfortunately, stiffness is a definite sign that your pet reptile is gone.

Can a Beardie Die And Then Come Back to Life?

A dead bearded dragon can’t be revived. However, if you pet dragon appears to be dead and then signs of life resume, then they were playing dead. Such behavior is occasioned by any of several situations from brumation, sickness, shedding, or extreme stress levels.

Final Verdict: Do Bearded Dragons Play Dead?

Yes, bearded dragons sometimes play dead. Nevertheless, captive beardies only mimic death deliberately when they’re scared or frightened by other beardies, creatures, or strange elements in their surroundings.

Beardies are naturally solitary and territorial lizards, so they sometimes fake death to dissuade predators of live beardies.

Moreover, beardies sometimes act dead due to parasitic attacks, illnesses, or brumation. In these situations, beardies play dead by lying motionless, breathing little, eating less than usual, reducing physical activity, and keeping their eyes shut.

At best, your beardie is only trying to avoid disturbance or discomfort by pretending to be dead. However, the behavior could be pointing at a deeper underlying issue that might need professional vet intervention to resolve.  

Still, your beardie could be playing dead for any of these reasons, so it’s best to determine the precise reason first.

Monitor your pet closely and regularly to establish why they’re acting up, and then correct what’s troubling them so they can enjoy a healthy, comfy, long, and active life.

You may need to schedule an urgent reptile vet appointment to identify the exact reason for the sudden turn of behavior.

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