Have you ever noticed your bearded dragon licking the air or its surroundings? Find out why they do this and how they use tongues to explore their surroundings.
In this guide, you’ll learn:
- Why do bearded dragons lick?
- What do bearded dragons use their tongue for?
- What does it mean when bearded dragons lick things?
Why do bearded dragons lick everything?
If you have a bearded dragon you have probably noticed that they lick almost everything. From the air, to the substrate, and food, nothing seems to escape a beardie’s tongue. Although the cause behind this habit might seem obscure at first, this article will go through the main reason why these reptiles use their tongue so often.
Licking behavior in lizards relates to a specialized organ called the Jacobson’s organ (or vomeronasal organ) at the top of their mouth. Bearded dragons, like most reptiles, use this organ to gather information about their environment. While snakes and nocturnal lizards use their Jacobson’s organ to locate food, bearded dragons use them mostly to smell and taste.
A bearded dragon’s tongue is full of receptors that detect microparticles from the surface licked to get a better understanding of their surroundings.
The Jacobson’s organ then decodes specific organic compounds from these surfaces that give a wide range of detail about their environment, such as the temperature, presence of predators, or other bearded dragons.
What Do Bearded Dragons Use Their Tongue For?
Licking is a common behavior in bearded dragons, as it’s one of their primary tools to explore the world that surrounds them. It’s almost constant in beardies under 10 months old since juvenile bearded dragons are particularly curious about their surroundings, as everything is new to them. They are also more fragile than adult bearded dragons, so they try to gather as much information as possible to stay safe and healthy.
As they age, bearded dragons in captivity are likely to lick less and less around them, as they are already used to their tank and routine. In older bearded dragons, licking becomes rarer and is normally linked to the presence of something new around them, temperature measurements, or as a way of showing affection towards its human companion.
If your bearded dragon is licking its lips, it can also be a sign that your pet is thirsty. Make sure there is water available inside the tank and that the temperature of your lizard’s enclosure is not too high to prevent dehydration. A thermometer and a hygrometer will help you maintain your pet’s tank between 75 and 99 °F and humidity levels under 40% RH.
Reasons Your Bearded Dragon Is Licking
1. To get to know the environment.
In their natural habitat, bearded dragons use their vomeronasal organ or Jacobson’s organ to gather information about predators. Licking helps them identify if there is danger in its vicinity, giving them time to hide from their potential attackers. Bearded dragons are the perfect food for bigger lizards, such as goannas, birds, and even dingoes, so it is crucial for them to have a little advantage.
In captivity, licking is also a way for bearded dragons to get a better grasp of their surroundings. As we’ve seen, beardies get plenty of information through the receptors located in their tongue. If there are a lot of new stimuli in their tank, or you’ve changed the cage to another room or location, then your bearded dragon is probably licking every surface because of its new surroundings. This helps them get an idea of how the new space is, whether it is alone in it, and how it should act.
Keep in mind that changing a bearded dragon’s habitat too often can stress them out so it’s best to make these changes gradually.
2. As part of a pre-mating ritual.
Licking can also be a sign that the breeding season has arrived for your bearded dragon. As bearded dragons live solitary, non-gregarious lives, the Jacobson’s organ helps them find a suitable partner for reproduction. Thanks to the receptors on their tongue and roof of their mouth, they can detect and locate pheromones from other beardies that are ready to mate.
Breeding season for bearded dragons often starts one month after brumation. Licking, head bobbing, and changing of the beard color in males, are characteristic pre-mating behaviors for beardies.
During mating season, males will become very territorial and aggressive. Male bearded dragons will lick females to mark them as theirs, and females will lick other females to find out whether they have been mating in their territory.
Using the Jacobson’s organ they can know whether there are other bearded dragons close to them, multiplying their options for reproduction. Although this function might not be too useful in captivity, you might notice that around spring, your beardie licks the air more often and shows a more anxious behavior. The appearance of aggressive behavior during this time should not be a cause for concern. After a couple of weeks, you will notice your pet coming back to its usual calm and friendly behavior.
3. They are curious about temperature and textures.
Through licking, bearded dragons can measure the temperature of their environment. Bearded dragons are exothermic, which means that they need external heat sources to regulate their body temperature. If your bearded dragon licks you, it might be trying to gauge your temperature to estimate that of its surroundings. The ideal temperature for bearded dragons to live in is between 75 and 99 °F.
Reptiles also lick to understand the texture of objects. Bearded dragons have limited tactile receptors on their feet so they identify the texture of things around them by licking.
4. They are marking their territory.
Beardies are extremely territorial and will use licking to mark their territory. In their natural habitat, fights between males for the control of a territory and its resources are very common. When they are kept as pets, bearded dragons normally don’t encounter other bearded dragons, so their territorial instinct decreases. However, bearded dragons will still lick what they think is theirs (including you!) to infuse it with their scent.
What Objects Do Bearded Dragons Lick?
Beardies use their tongue to detect microparticles that allow them to gather information about their environment using their Jacobson’s organ. You may have noticed your bearded dragon licking the air, which can seem strange at first, but it is very useful for them. However, this behavior should not be confused with gaping (keeping their mouth open) while basking. If your beardie has its mouth open but its tongue is not moving, it is probably trying to decrease its body temperature.
📚 Read More >> Bearded Dragon Open Mouth Behavior Explained
You can tell if your beardie is curious about its environment or is just gaping to cool down by the movement of its tongue. When bearded dragons rapidly stick out their tongue, they are gathering particles from the air. The tongue then is pulled back into the upper part of the mouth, where the Jacobson’s organ is located. The Jacobson’s organ analyzes the microscopic particles gathered by the tongue receptors and sends the information to the brain. This then gives your beardie details about the presence of potential predators, mating partners, smell, and room temperature.
You might have noticed that bearded dragons lick their food before eating it, which is a way of “smelling” their food. Lizards such as beardies smell through their tongues. Because of the Jacobson’s organ, bearded dragons achieve a more complete knowledge of their food intake by licking their food in much the same way we humans tend to smell our food before eating it.
Other household pets
Even if bearded dragons are not very social creatures, they will be very curious about understanding other animals they are sharing the space with. It is not always safe for bearded dragons to be around other household pets such as cats and dogs, but if given the chance, your bearded dragon will lick them to assess whether they present a threat.
If you are considering introducing your cat or dog to your bearded dragon, make sure you give them time to get used to each other to prevent them from being aggressive. Start by holding your beardie in your hands to slowly introduce it to your cat or dog. If you notice your beardie puffing or showing aggressive traits, it might not be ready for the introduction yet.
Allow your beardie to get used to the presence of other pets by placing its terrarium in the room where your dog or cat is often in. Through licking the air, your beardie will get used to the smell and presence of the other animal, reducing the anxiety of their future meeting.
Lizards such as bearded dragons have a different way of smelling things using their tongue, with the help of a special organ at the back of their mouths called the Jacobson’s organ. This helps them figure out the smell, taste, temperature, and texture of the surfaces they lick. It also helps them detect pheromones and other odors present in the air to help them check for any threats and/or other beardies that are ready to mate.
What does it mean when your beardie licks you?
If your bearded dragon licks you frequently it’s either showing affection towards you or showing that it feels comfortable with its surroundings. Bearded dragons are one of the few reptiles that show affection for their human companions and licking is a sign that you and your beardie are sharing some quality time.
However, licking can also mean other things, for example, your beardie may be expressing its dominance over you or trying to figure out the temperature of the room you are in.
What does it mean if a bearded dragon licks another bearded dragon?
Lizards often lick each other to show dominance or acceptance to a hierarchy. The alpha bearded dragon establishes its dominance by being the largest in a territory and will lick its competitors to confirm its power. When two bearded dragons are trying to dispute their social role, they will bob their heads, defying each other until one backs down. The one established as the alpha male will then lick the submissive beardie’s head as a sign of dominance.
Along with licking, there are other behaviors that bearded dragons use to confirm their social hierarchy. When a beardie lies on top of another, it is often a display of aggression by the alpha male to reinforce its dominant role.
You should never keep two bearded dragons in the same enclosure, especially if they are two males. Even in the wild, bearded dragons are solitary animals that do not enjoy the company of other reptiles.
Overview on Bearded Dragons:
Bearded dragons: facts and photos
Overview on owning a Bearded Dragon:
Bearded Dragons – Owning | VCA Animal Hospital
A great, informative article that explains bearded dragon care
Husbandry and veterinary aspects of the bearded dragon (Pogona spp.) in Australia
Myths and facts about bearded dragon care:
Myths and Facts about Bearded Dragon Care
Comprehensive bearded dragon care sheet you can print (PDF):