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The bearded dragon is known for its gentle and laid back nature. Sometimes it will wave at you in such a way that you’re inclined to smile and wave back. But it is interesting to learn the actual reasons behind the wave. Having done a little digging to find out more about this strange but cute ritual I decided to write this article on my findings. So…
Why do bearded dragons wave? Bearded dragons generally wave as a sign of submission. Waving is commonly observed when a bearded dragon comes face to face with another bearded dragon, although, they will often exhibit the same behavior when encountering other animals or humans too.
All pets have their funny little quirks that make us laugh or just curious. The docile wave from a bearded dragon is definitely one of those quirks. It’s important to understand some of the different reasons for this behavior, as in certain less common situations, it may mean that your bearded dragon is distressed.
Read on to find out exactly why your bearded dragon might be waving and how to react accordingly.
Background on Bearded Dragons
To understand what is going on when a bearded dragon waves at you, it’s good to first understand them as an animal. If you have a bearded dragon, you know what an interesting reptile they are.
Many associate the word dragon with fire breathing monsters from other realms. But you don’t need the power of The Mother of Dragons, Khaleesi, to tame these little guys. Bearded dragons are notorious for being gentle, but inquisitive. They are curious and love to explore, but they are very docile and can be quite loving.
There are eight different species of bearded dragons, the most popular being the Pogona Vitticeps, or the inland or central bearded dragon. According to VCA Hospitals, bearded dragons are actually one of the best pet reptiles to own. They are also one of the most popular. This is because of their responsiveness to their owners.
Maybe you’re not a cat person or a dog person, but you still want a pet that will respond and react to you. That is not always the case with reptiles, but it is with a bearded dragon. If you aren’t all about vacuuming fur, but you want pet companionship, then a bearded dragon is for you.
What Happens When a Bearded Dragon Waves?
The first time you see a bearded dragon wave, it’s hard not to smile. It appears to be a sweet gesture that is executed by the dragon at a slow pace that is quite comforting. They will stay standing on three legs and lift one of their front legs in the air, waving it in a circular motion with the bottom of the foot exposed. It almost looks like the palm of someone’s hand as they wave to you.
I would love to tell you that this is just them saying, “What’s up? How was your day?” but, that’s not really the case.
A common misconception is that only the females exhibit this waving action. This belief leads people to think that the wave is a mating or courtship ritual. In these rituals, each gender exhibits different behaviors. However, both male and female dragons perform the “circle” wave.
So, what is your bearded dragon doing when it waves? He or she is trying to tell you something. The problem is what is that something? A dog’s bark can mean anything from “I’m hungry” to “Play with me” to “I’m scared.” If you know your dog, you can usually tell what the dog is trying to say. But it can sometimes be much harder to tell what a bearded dragon is trying to communicate.
As the bearded dragon increases in popularity as a household pet, scientists have been working towards more solutions to these types of questions, and they have come up with a few explanations so far. Some explanations tell us that we need to pay attention when our little beardie flashes a wave.
4 Reasons Why Your Bearded Dragon May Be Waving
Communication is key for our pets. We may not speak the same language, but if you didn’t have words, you would communicate through signals and body language, right? That’s the situation here. Your Bearded Dragon is using body language to communicate.
If you notice your bearded dragon waving, there are a few different explanations. While more work is being done to understand the famous bearded dragon wave, these are some good examples to give you a better understanding of what may be happening in their heads and how to deal with it.
1. Showing Submission to You
The most common opinion is that the dragon is showing submission when they wave. It shows an understanding and passiveness that says, “You’re in charge, and I’m cool with that.” And yes–it does kind of look like that.
With their already passive and gentle nature, they are not a creature that is going to go toe-to-toe with something bigger and stronger. They understand the balance of the universe and how things work in the wild.
A bearded dragon is definitely not like your typical Chihuahua who will bark at the feet of a German Shepard any day of the week to try and show them who’s really the boss. When your bearded dragon realizes they are the smaller animal, they’re okay with that. They’re fine acknowledging that they are not the alpha in the room.
To repeat, they are very receptive to their owners. Basically, they understand that you’re the boss. You are bigger, you take care of them, and you basically control most of their day.
With their gentle nature and their understanding of what you provide for them, perhaps your little beardie is simply showing his/her respect for you and making it known that they will submit.
Typically, people will notice the waving when they enter the room. So, in many ways, it is a form of greeting, similar to what we consider a wave to mean. But for them, it takes it a step further, more like a bow of respect.
2. Fear of Another House Pet
Like we mentioned earlier, arm-waving is a form of communication that can be good or bad. One reason for waving often may be that your bearded dragon is scared. If it happens frequently, consider testing some things out with your other pets to make sure your bearded dragon is not living in fear.
It’s fairly common knowledge that bearded dragons are better off when housed separately from one another as things can and often will turn sour at some point. If you have more than one bearded dragon in the same tank, this is most likely the route cause of your dragon’s incessant waving. For more information on keeping multiple bearded dragons together please read my article on the subject.
Your beardie may be alone in his/her tank, but if you have other house pets that he/she sees frequently, they could still be leaving an impression. Take notice when the waving happens. If it happens when another animal is in the room, it could mean your beardie is scared.
Similar to submitting to their owner, in that they understand that there is a larger creature in their midst, however, this time it is more about fear. They know you are not going to hurt them. But when they see your Golden Retriever come bounding in through the doorway, it’s their natural instinct to be scared.
Even if a larger animal is the sweetest, kindest, most loving animal you’ve ever seen, your beardie doesn’t necessarily know that. So, this is their way of showing they will be submissive, but more than likely they are also scared. In this instance think of it more like them waving a white flag than their hand.
How to Help Calm Their Fears:
The last thing you want to do is choose between two pets. No one should ever have to go through that, and this is definitely not a case that you will have to. This just means you need to adjust some of the settings for your beardie.
The first step is making sure they have their own space for their tank. Maybe something in a corner and make it their own so that they know that it is their safe space.
In their natural habitat, a bearded dragon has a lot of natural things they can hide behind. Try to recreate this for them in their tank. Think about how certain items can help shield them and give them shelter when they become scared or startled.
A small plant (Amazon) or a small piece of driftwood that seems like an insignificant decoration for aesthetics can provide a place of sanctuary for your bearded dragon. There are lots of great structures you can buy that will give them a place to hide, like this little cave on Amazon which is perfect for smaller dragons.
If you want to go the natural route; small logs, twigs or rocks are all great ways to make them feel safe. Just be sure to sterilize anything you bring in from outside as it may harbor harmful parasites and bacteria. This article on ‘Bearded Dragons World’ will show you what you need to know.
3. Acknowledging the Presence of Another Animal
Your bearded dragon could simply be acknowledging the presence of another housepet (similar to when they show submission to their owner) rather than something coming from a place of fear.
Arm waving is typically something that bearded dragons do when they are around other bearded dragons. But even with other species of animals, it can easily be their way of acknowledging that animal’s presence in a non-fear-based way.
Whether your bearded dragon’s waving is in response to something they have perceived as relatively benign versus when they have a sense of impending doom, it can be hard to differentiate between the two. However, there is one major clue you can keep an eye out for to help you decide which it is.
Do they stay visible after waving? If they don’t try to hide while the other pet is in the room, this could just be their way of showing their understanding of the other pet’s presence. If they cower behind a plant immediately, this is obviously a sign of fear.
4. Confused by Their Own Reflection
Sometimes, you may notice your bearded dragon waving for absolutely no apparent reason. No people or pets have entered the room for some time and yet your bearded dragon begins staring into the middle distance and waving. Fear not, your little friend hasn’t completely lost the plot.
If you have a terrarium made from glass or plastic with a reflective surface, this could hold the answer. It’s likely that their reflection is confusing them and causing fear and/or wanting to acknowledge the presence of “another bearded dragon.”
This “imaginary intruder” phenomenon is a fairly common occurrence for bearded dragons. It can also cause other behavioral issues such as frequent hiding, running back and forth or clawing at the glass otherwise known as “glass surfing.”
Unfortunately, there are a number of other causes for most of these behaviors, ranging from their habitat being too warm or too small to just wanting to spend some time out and about to explore. So if you see these other behaviors without the waving then you may need to dig a little deeper as to why it’s occurring. Consider reading my article on bearded dragons running back and forth which covers some of the most common causes.
If seeing their own reflection is the route cause of the waving, you may notice them waving more at certain times of the day. This is probably due to changes in lighting around the room as the sun moves across the sky and/or artificial lighting is switched on or off.
You can do things to limit your bearded dragons’ reflection. Moving ornaments closer to the enclosure walls or covering as many as three sides of the enclosure with something such as a terrarium background (Amazon) can help.
Failing this you may want to consider relocating the terrarium to a corner of the room where the surrounding walls are better lit. This will also help reduce the appearance of reflections inside of the tank.
Other Bearded Dragon Behaviors
When you’re looking at what is causing your bearded dragon to wave, you should also take the time to learn about some other behavioral issues that tend to be common in bearded dragons. Here is a quick cheat sheet of some top behaviors and a brief breakdown of what it may mean.
Still, do any further research you’d like and speak with your veterinarian if you notice weird behaviors that do not go away or may seem harmful.
When your bearded dragon bobs his head, it tends to be a sign of dominance during breeding. It will be more common with males. If they speed up the head bobbing, it can mean they are agitated and can become threatening.
Fluffing Their Beard
Males and females will puff out their beards to make themselves seem bigger. So, while they may do this from time to time totally unprovoked, it may also be them trying to appear larger if there is another animal around.
One of the most primal and instinctual habits from so many animals. And the reasons tend to be the same – looking for comfort, safety, and security. They may just be looking to big a little bed for themselves that will be temperate and comfortable to their needs. For an expectant mother, it can also mean she is getting herself ready to have her babies in her newly dug area.
When a bearded dragon twitches its tail, it might remind you of a cat doing the same with its tail. Often when cats are hunting prey, they twitch their tails. A bearded dragon may be doing the same thing. It is not a common trait, but it will happen among some.
Before I Wave Goodbye
More research is being gathered constantly to understand more about what those adorable little waves mean. Right now, these reasons are agreed upon by many experts.
Keep an eye on your bearded dragon and their behaviors and make sure to pay attention if any of them become overly frequent. Waving from your bearded dragon shouldn’t be considered anything too dangerous even if it becomes frequent, but it’s probably wise that you at least reevaluate their surroundings.
It doesn’t mean they are in immediate danger or that they are ill, but you don’t want them living in fear, which it could very well mean. Stress is not good for anyone and can even affect the immune system.
Bearded dragons are great pets. If you have one, consider yourself lucky and try to understand what they’re telling you when they raise one foot in the air.