Bearded dragons have grown ever popular in recent years among both experienced lizard lovers and first time owners alike.
Known for their expressive nature and enigmatic personalities, each beardie truly is it’s own unique character.
Combined with the fact that bearded dragons enjoy human interaction and handling, and can show some attachment to their owners, it is not hard to see why they’re rapidly becoming a mass-market pet popular with families.
In this article we’ll be taking a look at waving, a habit that is well known as being a bearded dragon quirk that can often earn the lizards’ millions of hits on video sharing sites, simply because of how adorable it can look.
But why is your bearded dragon waving? What does it mean? Should you be concerned?
In this article we’ll be taking a closer look at the reasons why bearded dragons wave.
What do we Mean by ‘Waving’?
When we’ say that a bearded dragon is waving, we really mean just that. Like a human greeting someone, a beardie will raise one of its front legs and move it in a circular arc.
When in its tank, the dragon will usually come up close to the glass to do this display of movements.
It’s something you wouldn’t think much of coming from your neighbor, but from your pet, it tends to get your attention.
Here are a few common misconceptions about why bearded dragons wave:
1. Waving Hello
One of the most common misconceptions as to why your beardie is waving is that it’s simply happy to see you, and is greeting you when you arrive.
While this is no doubt an adorable idea, and certainly the main reason why beardie waving videos get so many views, it’s sad to say that this is simply not true, and is nothing more than a hopeful misconception.
While beardies can recognize their owners and do show affection in their own way, waving is a social construct of humans created as a form of greeting, which your beardie really has no concept of.
The same can be said for when we project human emotions onto our pets, which is known as anthropomorphism.
We do this naturally with our pets, and while there is some debate, the leading reason appears to be because we mentally want to include them within our family unit, and by focussing on our human traits seen within our pet, we make this bond stronger.
So there you have it: while it’s a nice idea, and doesn’t detract at all from how adorable this display is, your beardie really isn’t waving hello to you.
2. All Beardies Should Wave
Again, not true. It is really down to the dragon itself; we did say they were kooky characters! Some will wave fairly often, some once in a while, and some never at all, so it is important not to be concerned if your beardie never does. It isn’t a sign that anything is wrong with your pet at all!
3. It’s a Gal Thing
There is also the misconception that only female beardies wave, and that if your beardie is waving it’s a good sign of the gender of your pet.
The misconception goes that female beardies wave to assert their dominance, whereas males will bob their heads instead. This is really not the case, as given the right setting or circumstance both genders will bob or wave.
So if it’s not that, and it’s not a greeting, then why is your beardie waving?
Why Is My Bearded Dragon Waving?
There are several different reasons to explain why your beardie may be waving at you. On the whole the reasons are nothing to worry about, so certainly don’t feel guilty taking some snaps of the cuteness!
The most common reason why a bearded dragon waves is as a sign of submission.
Where head bobbing displays dominance, and will typically be shown by alpha males or females, waving is a submissive sign usually given by dragons who view themselves in a subservient or beta position.
Therefore, when your bearded dragon is waving at you when you approach it’s tank, it’s actually showing you in a visual display that it views you as the bigger or alpha dragon, and is submitting to your superiority.
This mimics the social hierarchy a pogona would have in the wild. Dominant or high-ranking dragons in their group will take the best basking spots.
Of course, when a low-ranking male (or, less likely but still possible, a female) wants to take this spot and assert their status, they can challenge the ‘superior’ dragon.
The dominant dragon will then bob his head as a sign of aggression and challenge. If the lower-ranked dragon then decides conflict isn’t best, it can show submission to the higher-ranked pogona by waving an arm, which will mean the conflict is ended and forgotten.
However, if the challenging dragon does not display this gesture, or even bobs their head back, then a fight for dominance will begin.
So, as you can see, when your beardie is waving at you, it is acknowledging you as its superior, and physically showing you it submits to you, and does not want any conflict.
2. Mirror Image
If the tank your dragon is housed in is particularly transparent or shiny, your dragon may be seeing its own reflection. It could feel threatened, viewing its reflection as another dragon, and therefore showing submission to it.
3. Down with the Kids
Waving is often seen more frequently in juvenile beardies.
When in groups, beardie babies will often arm-wave when interacting with one another, even when there’s been no outward displays of aggression.
The waving process is often exaggerated or experimental when seen in young bearded dragons, and they will often slowly rotate their arm in a circular motion and may even switch arms or alter their body position when doing this.
It is more common that the smaller beardies in a group of juveniles will demonstrate this behaviour and could be the start of territorial behaviour, and should be monitored closely incase separation is needed – after all, beardies in captivity, and to some degree in the wild, are mostly solitary creatures.
4. That Lovin’ Feeling
Where males will wave as an act of submission to a dominant male, If your beardie is female, she may also start to wave as a signal that she is ready to mate.
This will happen alongside other types of breeding behaviour including her head bobbing and circling her tank.
5. Too Many Cooks!
Bearded dragons really typically are loners, and in the wild if they form a loose group, they will have the space and scope to remove themselves when needed.
However, in captivity, space can often be a premium. Bearded dragons can be intensely territorial, particularly in regards to males.
Housing several males together can result in extreme aggression, fueled by this territorial disposition, which can frequently lead to the less dominant dragons becoming harmed or injured.
It is possible to have a group of females, so long as they are given the right care and their body language and habits monitored around mating seasons.
The same can be said of a group of two females and one male. In general, however, it is advised that dragons housed together do not exceed numbers of two or three, or even better, housed in separate tanks.
Therefore, if you house your beardies together, and start to find one or two of them ‘waving’ at you or at other dragons on a regular basis, it is likely they are feeling unduly threatened by their surroundings, and separating the dragons will need to occur.
Excessive Waving in Bearded Dragons
While a bit of waving is perfectly normal, excessive waving can be a sign that something is off. Here are a few things to consider if you bearded dragon is waving more than normal:
1. Your Bearded Dragon is Scared
While your beardie waving at you from time to time is natural and nothing to be concerned about, if your dragon is waving at you daily, and has been for several weeks, then it is likely that your dragon is trying to tell you it is scared and feeling threatened.
Having any pet under stress for an extended period of time is not advisable, as it could causes stress-related health conditions, such as loss of fur or feathers in other pets, or loss of appetite or weight-loss in your beardie.
As we’ve previously mentioned, beardies are their own distinct little characters, but they are also quite sensitive little creatures, and can become distressed easily by changes to their surroundings, such as the introduction of new large pets, such as dogs, or even large pieces of furniture, or even simply moving their tank to another room.
This could cause them to become threatened and display waving behaviour.
2. You Have the Wrong Enclosure
A tank that is incorrect for your beardie can also cause them become frightened and display excessive waving behaviour.
There are many reasons which might cause a dragon to deem their environment threatening, and sadly this is often solved simply by troubleshooting and a bit of determination.
1) Tank Size – The size of the tank which your beardie is housed in could leave it threatened. If it is too small, it could leave it feeling trapped or enclosed, and if it is too big with too many open spaces, it could leave them feeling exposed or vulnerable.
2) Window View – Is your beardie able to see outside the window? If so they may be seeing birds, which they would deem as their natural predator, causing them to feel frightened. If this is the case, try positioning their tank differently, or cover the window with a sheet or some fabric.
3) An Exposed Space – Is your bearded dragon’s enclosure sparse? Have you ensured they have enough places to hide away? In the wild bearded dragons will hide in holes in the ground, giving them protection from predators or inclement weather. If your beardie feels nervous or threatened, its natural instinct will be to find cover, and if you haven’t provided suitable options your dragon could be left feeling on edge.
4) Natural Surroundings – Your bearded dragon’s home should emulate its natural habitat as closely as possible. Research other owners’ set-ups, as well as the pogona’s natural habitat. This will help make your beardie comfortable in its tank instead of feeling out of place in its surroundings.
5) Reflection – As previously mentioned, your dragon may be seeing its own reflection and interpreting it as a dominant male, and is as a result showing it its submission. While its ok for dragons to do this occasionally, again, if this is becoming a constant, then you’ll need to rectify the issue. Try repositioning your dragon’s lamps, or, if you find the surface of the tank is still too shiny, try adding a little more foliage to break up the surface.
While we’ve already expressed that not all dragons will wave, if yours has in the past, and hasn’t for some time (or in general if your beardie appears sluggish or reserved) then you may also wish to try the methods listed above.
It may be that your bearded dragon’s personality is being suppressed by nerves or an unsuitable environment.
By getting your tank set up just right, not only will you make your beardie feel better, but you could also gain all kinds of benefits as a bearded dragon owner.
As previously mentioned, bearded dragons are full of character and personable towards humans.
If your beardie feels at ease in its home, then its personality will naturally begin to shine through, giving you amazing interactions with your pet!
Worries and Concerns
As with all pets, owners tend to know when something isn’t quite right.
With that in mind, if you have tried these methods and have had little success, or you are greatly concerned about your bearded dragon’s stress levels, then don’t hesitate to take your beardie to a vet or reptile specialist for a check up.
After all, it is always better to be safe than sorry, and you’ll probably gain some valuable advice and tips too.
Bearded dragons, or pogonas as they are officially known, are rewarding pets known for their big personalities and adorable quirks.
‘Waving’ is a common trait of the pogona, and is an act of submission which a beardie utilizes for various reasons.
While this display of submission is a perfectly normal sight from time to time, excessive displays could denote your dragon is under undue stress, which owners should work swiftly towards alleviating.
Factors such as changing or refining their enclosure, as well as separating territorial dragons should help keep displays of submission to a minimum, and help ensure your dragon is calm, relaxed, and able to be its quirky self.