For someone who is new to reptiles and has no intention of breading them, egg-laying can be the last thing on your mind when purchasing a bearded dragon. However, if she is a female, you may be in for a surprise.
Can a female bearded dragon lay eggs without a male? Yes, female bearded dragons can lay eggs without ever coming into contact with a male. However, these eggs will be infertile and will not develop into babies. Unfertilized eggs will be dented, slightly yellow in color, and should be removed from the enclosure before they go rotten.
As far as captivating egg-laying goes, the female bearded dragon ranks pretty highly on the curiosity scale. Continue reading to learn about how bearded dragons lay eggs and what’s important to look out for if your bearded dragon becomes gravid.
Bearded Dragons Lay Infertile Eggs in the Absence of a Mate
Female bearded dragons can lay eggs in three different instances:
- After mating with a male
- After storing sperm from a past mating session with a male
- Without ever mating with a male.
In the case of a female who has been unable to mate, the eggs will be infertile.
Laying eggs (fertile or not) takes a heavy nutritional toll on the female’s body. She will require extra food and calcium to remain healthy.
The anomaly that results in a female animal laying both fertile and infertile eggs is more common than you think. Chickens are a good example of an animal that lays many unfertilized eggs throughout their lifetime.
Like many creatures, if a female bearded dragon does not have access to a mate of her species, she may still ovulate. In mammals, this process is mirrored in female menstruation.
It should also be noted that female bearded dragons can lay multiple clutches of eggs from just one mating session. Female bearded dragons can actually store sperm for up to a year! So, even if it’s been a while since your beardie mated, you should bear this in mind as there’s still a chance that you may be dealing with babies in the near future.
How to Tell if Eggs are Fertile or Not
If your bearded dragon has a clutch of eggs and you are unsure of whether they are fertile or not, you can test them by putting an egg at the end of a flashlight. This process is known as candling. For this, you should get the best results after waiting a week or two after the eggs have been laid.
When light shines through the egg, you should be able to get a good idea of what is inside. If you see a pink embryo, or what appears to be reddish veins inside, then your egg is most likely fertile. However, if the egg is more of a yellowish tint, with no discernible features inside, it is probably not.
Do not handle the egg more than you have to because it can harm the baby dragon inside of it.
When Do Female Bearded Dragons Lay Eggs?
Female bearded dragons can lay an unfertilized clutch as early as ten months old, which is before they typically begin mating and breeding. That said, they may not lay any eggs until many years later in life or even at all.
When a female dragon becomes gravid (pregnant with eggs), those eggs can be either fertile or infertile, depending on whether she has had access to a male bearded dragon.
If you have had your female dragon since before she reached sexual maturity and she lays a clutch of eggs or becomes gravid, you can be sure that the eggs will be infertile.
However, if you acquired your female bearded dragon as an adult and she was kept with mixed company, there is a chance that the eggs were fertilized up to a year prior to acquisition.
How Can I Tell if My Female Bearded Dragon is Gravid?
If your female bearded dragon is gravid, you should be able to tell. There are definitive physical symptoms in bearded dragons during pregnancy, just like in many other animals. If your female bearded dragon is gravid, you should be able to observe some of the following changes:
- Sudden weight gain
- Larger belly
- Pinkish tint to urates
- Changes in bowel movements
- Hard marble-like protrusions within the belly
- Becoming less active than usual when close to laying
- Nesting behavior i.e. digging
- May stop eating entirely when close to laying
Whether your female bearded dragon is laying fertile or infertile eggs, your treatment of the dragon should be the same regardless. Once you’ve determined that your dragon is gravid, you should immediately increase her intake of calcium.
Why Supplement Calcium to Gravid Female Bearded Dragons?
To create her eggs, a bearded dragon will draw calcium from her own skeletal system, and if this calcium is not replenished in her diet, this will leave her bones vulnerable to osteoporosis. This will make it easier to break toes, tail tips, and even limbs.
Calcium deficiency can also leave a reptile with metabolic bone disease, a disorder that fairly common in bearded dragons and can be fatal if not treated aggressively. Symptoms of metabolic bone disease include the following:
- Loss of appetite
- Bone fractures
- Swelling/deformation of the lower jaw
With regards to the pregnancy, if your dragon does not have enough calcium in her diet while gravid, her eggs might not form a proper shell. You might think this is inconsequential if the eggs are sterile anyway, but soft eggs can cause dangerous complications.
Calcium-deficient eggs can crack during the laying process, leaving the mother dragon vulnerable to internal infections and illness. It can also increase the chances that the mother will become egg-bound which means they are unable to lay their eggs.
How to Supplement Calcium to a Gravid Female Bearded Dragon
To supplement calcium to a gravid bearded dragon is easy enough. All you have to do is sprinkle calcium powder on top of live mealworms or crickets and feed the live insects to the bearded dragon.
Bearded dragons are enthusiastic live feeders most of the time, so this should make the process of supplementing calcium into their diet relatively easy. Be sure to get your live insects from a pet supply store or raise them yourself.
Do not introduce wild crickets or other insects to your bearded dragon, as this can introduce parasitic diseases and other issues.
A thrifty option for feeding your bearded dragon live insects is to raise them yourself, as they are fairly easy to keep. This is both cost-effective and a good way of making sure that the live insects your dragon eats are loaded with nutrients you’ve arranged yourself.
Other Ways to Support a Gravid Female Bearded Dragon During Gestation
While your bearded dragon is gravid, other than giving her extra calcium, there are other ways you can help support her to make sure that she is healthy and comfortable while gestating her eggs.
On top of a normal healthy diet, you might consider providing some extra treats for your gravid bearded dragon. Even if she is only laying infertile eggs, the effort of doing so will still drain her of needed nutrition for herself.
You should also give your female bearded dragon frequent warm baths during this period, as the process of gestating eggs can cause the dragon to become dehydrated.
How to Tell When a Female Bearded Dragon Will Lay Eggs?
When a gravid female dragon is ready to lay eggs, her behavior will noticeably change. She may begin to scratch frantically at the corners of the enclosure or will exhibit digging behavior that is above and beyond her normal foraging habits.
Once you think that your bearded dragon is preparing to lay eggs, you may want to prepare a lay box and place it in the habitat for her to use. Most female dragons will bury their eggs as they lay them, so make sure to have plenty of substrate in the box for her to use.
Female bearded dragons will typically lay anywhere from around 16 to 24 eggs. These eggs can be laid all at one time in a single clutch, or she may lay an egg or two a few days down the road.
How to Build a Lay Box
To build a lay box, get enough sand to form a layer of sand five to six inches deep, and then dampen it to the point that it remains clumped together.
Female bearded dragons prefer to tunnel a hole to lay their eggs in (hence all the frantic digging around in the habitat prior to laying) so by wetting down the sand slightly, you will give it enough moisture that it doesn’t cave in on your dragon while she is trying to dig out her nest.
If adequate conditions aren’t provided for a female bearded dragon to lay her eggs, it increases her chances of becoming egg-bound. She will not lay her eggs until she finds a good spot to do it and is unaware that withholding her eggs can cause medical complications.
Once you’ve determined that your female bearded dragon is gravid and may be able to lay a clutch of eggs, prepare a spot for her right away so she can get on with the process. Habitat control is up to you, so make sure she has what she needs to succeed at her task.
Care of the Female Bearded Dragon After Laying Eggs
Your main concerns with your bearded dragon after she lays her eggs are to make sure that she rehydrates (the eggs will pull a lot of fluid from her) and gets her strength back.
Make sure that the dragon gets plenty of fresh clean water and food during this period, making sure to offer vegetables and greens with high nutrients so that she can regain some of the minerals lost during the creation of her eggs.
As for the eggs themselves, they should be removed from the habitat to prevent spoiling. If there is no male involved, the eggs will be infertile and can be safely discarded.
If there is a chance that your female dragon may have been fertilized prior to the acquisition, you may want to double-check the eggs using the torch method outlined earlier in this article. If you have fertilized eggs, you may opt to incubate them.
Will Female Bearded Dragons Eat Their Own Eggs?
Female bearded dragons, when left to their own devices, are quite opportunistic eaters. Due to this, many owners have reported their female bearded dragon actually eating her own eggs after laying them. This is not a sign of anything wrong necessarily and should not be too alarming.
This is not an uncommon phenomenon in the animal kingdom, as many birds will eat their own eggs and even mammals will eat their own young in unnatural environments.
Bearded dragons will eat eggs in the wild, and if nothing else, eating her own infertile eggs will help her regain some of the nutrients she lost in laying the eggs, to begin with.
The best thing is to simply discard the infertile eggs as soon as possible. Cracked eggs will begin to stink particularly quickly in the heat of a bearded dragon enclosure.
Health Issues for Gravid Bearded Dragons and Their Eggs
There are unfortunately several things that can go wrong in the course of a gravid female bearded dragon attempting to lay a clutch of infertile eggs. Here are some of the complications that can arise when a female bearded dragon becomes gravid:
Lack of physical exercise and poor nutrition: Inadequate animal husbandry can leave a female bearded dragon too weak to push out her eggs. This will result in her becoming egg bound, which has the potential to eventually cause sepsis and death.
Inadequate humidity: Inadequate humidity can lead to dehydration in the mother dragon and can cause difficulty in laying the eggs. Eggs may stick together also, which is one of the factors that make laying them harder.
Egg binding (Dystocia): This is when the bearded dragon, for a variety of reasons, is unable to lay her eggs. Unfortunately, in infertile female reptiles, this is a common and often life-threatening condition.
Egg yolk peritonitis: This condition can occur if the eggs inside the bearded dragon are broken due to low calcium levels in the shells or rough handling of the gravid dragon. Burst egg yolks in the oviduct can lead to serious internal infections and death.
What to Do for an Egg-bound Female Bearded Dragon
A normally gravid female bearded dragon will be bright-eyed and somewhat active, but an egg-bound bearded dragon will go downhill and become very sick, very quickly.
If your dragon has held her eggs for over 45 days, and you suspect that she is egg-bound, you should take her in to see a reptile or exotic vet right away. The more quickly you can stage an intervention for your sick reptile, the more likely you are to see a positive prognosis.
Unfortunately, sick snakes and lizards can die fast once they do become sick, so it’s important to get an egg-bound dragon professional help as soon as possible once a problem is detected. A vet will determine whether the dragon is egg-bound by performing the following tests:
- Physical exam
When an egg bound condition is detected, a veterinarian will typically recommend a hormone-based treatment to try and induce the dragon into passing her eggs naturally, such as oxytocin or arginine vasotocin.
If this doesn’t work, a veterinarian will move on to surgical intervention. This is only done as a last resort, as reptiles do not do well under anesthesia as a general rule, and their small size makes surgery difficult.
Can You Prevent a Female Bearded Dragon from Laying Eggs Without a Male?
Unfortunately, there is currently no way to prevent female bearded dragons from laying an infertile clutch. If they determine it is time for them to do so, there’s really nothing you can do.
Although it’s not unheard of for infertile females to lay multiple clutches, most will only ever lay one. So, you’ll be glad to know that you’ll probably only have to deal with the scenario once, if at all.
The only thing that may prevent a female bearded dragon from becoming gravid is malnutrition, but this would lead to poor health in the dragon overall and should never be considered as a method for preventing gravidity in your dragon.
To Wrap It Up
If your female bearded dragon becomes gravid without the presence of a male, you should take it as a compliment to your herpetology skills. Ovulation is a sign of good health. It’s perfectly normal and it shows that you are taking good care of her. A female reptile will only lay eggs when she feels like she is living in an optimal environment for her needs.
An infertile female bearded dragon becoming gravid might be a bit of an inconvenience if you weren’t planning on having eggs, but with a little extra tender loving care, your female dragon should come through the ordeal in reasonable comfort and good health.