There are a ton of things to love about bearded dragons – that’s part of the reason they’re so popular among reptile enthusiasts.
They’re typically docile and comfortable hanging out with their keepers. They’re nearly the perfect size for a pet, being large enough to handle, yet not so large they’re hard to house. And, they’re usually very hardy animals, who can withstand the mistakes and missteps beginning reptile keepers often make.
But there’s one other really neat thing about bearded dragons: They’re available in countless forms and “flavors.”
And this means you can not only buy a bearded dragon in just about every color of the rainbow, but you can also acquire one that exhibits unusual scalation. Today, we’re going to talk about bearded dragons that exhibit one of these types of unusual scalation: the silkback bearded dragon.
What Is a Silkback Bearded Dragon?
The term “silkback” is applied to bearded dragons who lack scales and tubercles on their dorsal and ventral surfaces. Silkback bearded dragons don’t inherently exhibit any unusual coloration, but their lack of scales often makes their color patterns appear bolder.
Unlike many other traits in bearded dragons, which can be a matter of interpretation (one keeper’s “high red” may be another keeper’s “super high red” or even “orange”), the silkback trait is objective and polar – a dragon is either a silkback or it isn’t.
The silkback bearded dragon trait traces its origin to a single animal that spontaneously hatched with an unusual appearance. This animal hatched in Italy, but the gene has spread through the worldwide bearded dragon gene pool, so keepers throughout the U.S., Canada, and Europe now have access to it.
How Are Silkback Bearded Dragons Created?
The silkback trait is the product of a single gene mutation, unlike some other traits, which are controlled by a large number of genes. The former can be created by simply introducing the gene in question to a breeding colony, while the latter requires multiple generations to establish the given trait.
As currently understood, the silkback trait is an example of an incomplete dominant mutation. This means that animals bearing one copy of the mutated gene will display physical differences from those who lack the same gene.
Whereas silkback bearded dragons have no scales on their dorsal or ventral surfaces, animals with one copy of the silkback gene exhibit a reduced number of scales (they still have some), and these scales are often much smaller than normal ones too. These animals are typically referred to as “leatherbacks.”
To create a silkback bearded dragon, you’ll need to produce an animal with two copies of the mutated gene. This is accomplished by breeding two leatherback bearded dragons together (which will result in approximately ¼ of the offspring being silkbacks), two silkback bearded dragons together (which will result in 100% of the clutch being silkbacks), or by breeding a leatherback with a silkback (which will produce approximately 50% silkbacks).
Silkback Bearded Dragon Care
Unlike many other unusual reptile traits, which don’t create any husbandry issues, the silkback bearded dragon trait requires keepers to do things a little bit differently.
We’ll discuss some of the biggest husbandry differences below.
Because silkback bearded dragons lack the scales that normal bearded dragons do, many keepers are concerned that they cannot safely tolerate the same UV light intensity that normal bearded dragons can. Accordingly, while most keepers still provide silkback bearded dragons with full-spectrum lighting that includes UVB rays, most opt for lights that produce a more moderate amount of UVB.
In simple terms, it is likely wise to opt for lights that produce low levels of UVB, rather than the “desert style” UVB bulbs often used in bearded dragon maintenance. Additionally, it is especially important to provide silkback dragons with a shaded area, which blocks the light and provides the animal with a sheltered retreat (this is typically wise to do with any animal provided with UVB lighting, but it is especially important in the case of silkback bearded dragons).
Because silkback dragons lack the scales normal bearded dragons do, they’re more susceptible to fluid loss via the skin. Accordingly, it is a good idea to provide silkback bearded dragons with more drinking water than usual (whether you do so by providing a dish of drinking water or via misting). It is also smart to provide them with more water-rich fruits and vegetables.
In addition to being more susceptible to dehydration, silkback bearded dragons also exhibit shedding difficulties.
For starters, silkback bearded dragons tend to shed very poorly, with large portions of their skin failing to fall away easily. In some cases, large patches of skin will remain stuck to the lizard. Additionally, silkback bearded dragons tend to shed more frequently than normal bearded dragons do.
To help deal with these issues, many keepers maintain their silkback dragons at higher humidity levels than normal bearded dragons. They also mist the habitat more frequently, and some keepers employ a regular soaking routine to help prevent these types of problems.
Lacking the scales that cover normal bearded dragons, silkback bearded dragons can become wounded very easily. This means that you should take care to eliminate any potential hazards from the habitat, but it also means that great care is required during breeding trials.
During mating, male bearded dragons often bite the necks and backs of the female dragons they’re mating with. Normally, female dragons take these bites in stride, but silkback dragons may suffer from severe lacerations. This is likely to cause your pet to suffer significant pain, and it may also make them susceptible to serious – potentially life-threatening – infections.
These factors cause many bearded dragon breeders to avoid using female silkback dragons in breeding projects. Instead, they’ll use combinations of male silkbacks and normal or leatherback females. If you choose to breed female silkback dragons, be sure to solicit veterinary attention following any significant wounds. This is necessary to help prevent infections from developing.
Are Silkback Bearded Dragons Good for Beginners?
In a word, no.
While normal bearded dragons (and, to a lesser extent, leatherback bearded dragons) make excellent pets for beginning lizard keepers, silkback bearded dragons present a number of challenges that may cause problems for beginners.
If you are interested in silkback bearded dragons, it is typically best to start with normal bearded dragons. Once you’ve mastered the husbandry of normal individuals, you can try your hand at leatherbacks. Only once you’ve become skilled at maintaining these types of bearded dragons should you attempt to maintain silkback bearded dragons.
Should Silkback Bearded Dragons Be Produced?
Because they present special husbandry challenges, many bearded dragon enthusiasts feel that silkback bearded dragons should not be produced by breeders or sold on the open market. Additionally, many silkback bearded dragons are smaller, weaker, and less vigorous than normal bearded dragons – some even present feeding difficulties. These challenges often mean that silkback bearded dragons fail to thrive and ultimately enter a declining spiral of health.
On the other hand, other enthusiasts feel that experienced keepers are quite capable of maintaining these unusual lizards, so things like bans are unnecessary and unwise. Such keepers tend to discourage beginners from buying silkback bearded dragons, even if they’ll do so themselves.
Ultimately, this is a question we can’t answer – you’ll simply have to make the best decision for yourself. However, it is worth noting that there are a number of other genetic mutations in other species that also cause husbandry challenges. Spider ball pythons, for example, often exhibit neurological problems, which occasionally give them problems eating and simply moving around.
Nevertheless, and despite calls from some keepers to ban them, these animals continue to be available on the reptile market.
Silkback bearded dragons are certainly eye-catching, and they’re quite popular with some keepers. However, because they present a number of husbandry challenges and reduced vigor, many enthusiasts believe breeders should stop producing them and hobbyists should cease purchasing them.
Every keeper will have to make the best decision he or she can about the trait, but just be sure to prepare yourself properly if you decide to keep one of these unusual – and often challenging – lizards.