Arm waving is seen as a quirky and adorable trait that pet bearded dragons can exhibit. It is a form of communication and often shows submission or acknowledgment of another being’s presence (human or another bearded dragon). Sometimes, it can be a sign of stress.
In this guide, you’ll learn:
- Why do bearded dragons wave?
- What does it mean?
- What does arm-waving not mean?
- Should my bearded dragon arm-waving be of concern?
What's In This Guide?
What Is Your Bearded Dragon Trying To Tell You?
Bearded dragons cannot vocalize in the same way dogs or cats can bark or meow. They can hiss a bit to show that they are threatened but they mainly communicate through their body posture, physical gestures such as head bobbing or waving, and color changes in their skin (or beard).
Though bearded dragons are considered solitary reptiles, they are sometimes found to aggregate in groups around prime basking spots and popular feeding areas in their natural habitat. In these places, a form of social hierarchy will emerge wherein the toughest or highest ranking bearded dragon will take the best basking spot (highest or sunniest) and then all the others will arrange themselves accordingly.
If a lower ranking dragon tries to challenge a higher ranking one, the higher ranking dragon will bob its head as a sign of dominance. If the challenger defers, it will wave its arms in submission but if it doesn’t, it returns the head bob and a fight or standoff will break out.
In captivity, a bearded dragon can sometimes wave at humans or another dragon to acknowledge its presence.
What Is Meant by “Waving?”
A bearded dragon waves by raising one of its front legs and moving it in a circular motion similar to how humans wave. Though it looks a bit like a slow-motion swimming movement using one arm, it certainly does look like your dragon is waving at something.
Does Gender Affect Arm Waving?
This is a misconception, some females may wave to show submission especially during mating while males bob their heads to show dominance instead. However, both genders can display arm waving as a sign of submission. Males do it to defer to a higher ranking male in the wild.
Does Age Affect Arm Waving?
Not entirely, bearded dragons of all ages exhibit arm-waving. Younger dragons may seem to wave more since a lot of their surroundings are new to them and they are naturally the more submissive bearded dragon due to their age. In groups, juvenile bearded dragons sometimes seem to wave as a way to acknowledge each other’s presence without aggression.
Why Do Bearded Dragons Wave Their Arms?
- Submission and Species Recognition
Arm waving is often displayed by a bearded dragon to signify that it recognizes another bearded dragon in its presence. Sometimes, it can be a reflection of itself in the glass walls of their tank. Being solitary animals, this can cause them to become territorial and move on to displays of aggression and dominance (head bobbing, puffed up bearded, blackened beard).
It is also a sign of submission when another bearded dragon defers to a more dominant or larger one. It can sometimes wave to show dominance to your or another larger animal in its presence. During mating, female bearded dragons may wave their arms and follow with a slow head bob to signify their readiness to mate.
- Wrong Enclosure Setup
Some aspects of your bearded dragon’s enclosure setup can make it feel submissive or threatened causing it to wave its arms. The tank may be too small and feel crowded or it can be too big with not enough places for it to hide causing it to feel threatened.
📚 Read More >> Best Bearded Dragon Enclosures
If your tank is next to a window, they may spot birds now and then. Birds are their predators in the wild so this will scare or threaten them into submission or hiding.
A common reason is your bearded dragon seeing its own reflection on the glass walls of their tank. This can lead to arm waving or glass surfing as your dragon recognizes the presence of another beardie and tries to assert its territory. Prevent this by placing a cover or background on one wall of your tank.
- Mating signal
Female bearded dragons will wave then slowly bob its head to show that it is ready to mate. Excessive waving without head bobbing may mean that your female beardie is a bit stressed and wants to be left alone.
- Sign of Stress
Dragons may sometimes wave as a sign of stress caused by having to feel submissive to something. It may be a bigger bearded dragon or the presence of a large animal near its enclosure (perhaps another pet such as a cat or a dog).
- Juvenile bearded dragon behavior
Waving is often displayed more frequently in young bearded dragons since a lot of their surroundings are new to them and they are naturally the more submissive bearded dragon due to their age.
In groups, juvenile bearded dragons sometimes seem to wave as a way to acknowledge each other’s presence without aggression. However, waving can also be a sign that juvenile dragons housed together are starting to become territorial and the waving dragon is showing signs of submission. If this is the case, they should be monitored and separated accordingly to avoid fights that can lead to injuries.
📚 Read More >> Bearded Dragon Stress
Common Misconceptions About Bearded Dragon Waving
- Your dragon is waving “hello!”
While it’s certainly nice to think that your lizard is waving at you, bearded dragons do not have the same concept of greetings that we humans have. They communicate by waving but it often means something other than “hello.”
- All bearded dragons wave
Not all bearded dragons display waving behavior. There is nothing wrong with your bearded dragon if it does not wave. It may simply mean that it feels very dominant and does not feel the need to wave to communicate submission. It can also be very comfortable, happy, and healthy.
- Only female bearded dragons wave
All bearded dragons wave regardless of their gender. Female beardies may wave and then bob their head to show they are ready to mate but male bearded dragons also wave. Male bearded dragons wave to show submission to another stronger and bigger bearded dragon.
Should Bearded Dragon Waving Be A Concern?
Waving is not always a concern. It can be a simple sign of submission or slight stress. But to be sure, you should watch for other signs of stress such as loss of appetite, inactivity, or change in bowel movements that show alongside excessive waving which can indicate a possible health issue.
Watch out for any elements that can cause your beardie some stress and cause it to wave especially aspects of its enclosure set up. Try to clear these out before it causes excessive stress that can affect your dragon’s health.
Why is my bearded dragon waving?
Waving is often a sign of submission or a signal that they recognize another dragon’s presence. It may even be a sign of submission to you as its owner and provider of food.
Sometimes waving can be a sign of stress from the wrong enclosure set up such as the glass of your dragon’s tank reflecting light in such a way that it makes it seem like there’s another bearded dragon in their enclosure.
Beardies are solitary creatures so “seeing” another dragon can cause it to become territorial, stressed, and wave its arms in submission. A puffed up and blackened beard can also be a sign of a dragon asserting its territory and showing aggression.
How can I tell if my bearded dragon is happy?
The best way to ensure your dragon’s happiness will be to make sure it is in top health. Practice good husbandry by providing the correct enclosure set up with proper lighting and temperature, keeping its enclosure clean, providing ample hydration, and feeding it a well-balanced diet.
Though “happiness” is a trait bearded dragons may not be totally familiar with, signs that point to their comfort and good health can indicate a form of happiness.
Bearded dragons are not very sociable creatures by nature so if your bearded dragon shows signs that it is comfortable in your presence, then it is definitely well taken care of and is most likely “happy.”
Signs that show your dragon is comfortable and is used to your presence include:
- A relaxed body while being held (not struggling or wiggling about)
- Coming towards you and recognizing your presence when you approach its cage (as opposed to hiding or being frantic)
- Licking at the air when you’re near
- Basking often
In the wild, bearded dragons cannot bask as freely since they are exposed to predators. If your bearded dragon basks often, it is a sign that it is totally comfortable and happy with your presence and its enclosure set up.
Why do bearded dragons wave and bob their heads?
Bearded dragons wave usually to signify that it recognizes the presence of another bearded dragon. It can also be a sign of submission.
Head bobs can mean different things. A slow head bob displayed by a female bearded dragon is often shown to show submission to a male. A wave followed by a slow head bob often indicates that a female bearded dragon is ready to mate.
A faster head bob displayed by a female bearded dragon can display stress and a warning sign that she wants to be left alone. It may also signify to a male that she is already gravid and does not want to mate.
Fast head bobs displayed by a male bearded dragon signifies dominance. It can also be accompanied with a puffed and blackened beard showing aggression.
Violent or vigorous head bobbing that shakes the whole body of a male bearded dragon is displayed right before mating.
Do bearded dragons get attached to their owners?
Bearded dragons will become familiar with their owner’s scent and become comfortable upon recognizing it. They will associate your scent or presence primarily with food. They may also recognize your face, behavior, and voice.
Since bearded dragons are not sociable by nature and are solitary, they are wary of any new scents they do not recognize. If another human attempts to handle your bearded dragon and they are not used to being handled, they may get uncomfortable and resist or squirm away towards a familiar scent showing some form of attachment to their owners.
Some families with beardies as pets notice a form of preference or attachment, even a sort of affection to certain individuals in the household. Similar to a dog recognizing an alpha, bearded dragons probably recognize a certain human as the best source of their food and become quite comfortable with their scent.
You can also build this trust by practicing the correct way to handle a bearded dragon by supporting its belly while being held and allowing it to be comfortable with you. Remember never to force anything on your beardie and go at its own pace.
Since bearded dragons cannot vocalize to communicate, they use physical gestures to express something. Waving is an example of such a gesture, often to indicate submission or recognition of another bearded dragon in its presence.
Short forum with a video and some information about waving:
Bearded Dragons wave their arms to show species recognition
Overview on Bearded Dragon Behavior
Central Bearded Dragon: Ecology and Behavior
A great, informative article that explains bearded dragon care
Husbandry and veterinary aspects of the bearded dragon (pogona spp.) in Australia
Explaining common myths and facts about bearded dragon care:
Myths and Facts about Bearded Dragon Care
Quick care sheet for a bearded dragon (PDF):
Bearded dragon husbandry
Forum on what may stress out bearded dragons with accounts from owners:
What might stress out my bearded dragon?