Silkback bearded dragons are unique-looking beardies that do not have spikes or scales on their skin.
In this guide, you’ll learn:
- What are silkback bearded dragons?
- What makes them unique?
- Why should their ownership be regulated?
What Are Silkback Bearded Dragons?
Silkback bearded dragons are known for presenting distinctively bright and smooth skin with vivid coloration. The reason for their exotic colors is explained by the lack of scales and tubercles (rough scales) in the dorsal and ventral surfaces of their bodies. This is the product of a gene mutation introduced and maintained into a community of beardies. They are considered a type of bearded dragon morph. Genetic abnormalities usually cause the different colors of different bearded dragon morphs.
The first time it happened, it was an unintentional genetic defect, which was later replicated and maintained by some breeders for its singularity. The cost of maintaining such exotic traits compared to regular bearded dragons is quite high: silkbacks tend to be much smaller than their wild counterparts and they can present many health conditions throughout their life.
Since they are born without scales, the skin of silkback bearded dragons is extremely sensitive and soft to the touch. Taking care of silkback bearded dragons presents many challenges and it is very difficult to provide them with a fully happy and healthy life. Their fragility limits many activities which would be normal for regular bearded dragons, such as breeding or shedding.
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Where Did Silkback Bearded Dragons Come From?
Silkback bearded dragons are selectively bred in captivity to maintain the recessive genetic mutation responsible for their exotic appearance. In the wild, this trait would not be successfully expressed or maintained through reproduction because it is recessive.
Silkback bearded dragons are bred from mating two leatherback bearded dragons. Leatherback bearded dragons already present some of the characteristics silkies have. They have smoother skin than regular bearded dragons and only have spikes on their head and sides, with none on their backs.
Breeding two leatherback bearded dragons together led to some beardies with a genetic mutation expressed as a very unusual appearance: the silkback bearded dragon. However, two leatherback bearded dragons often produce a minority silkback clutch so repeated breedings are practiced and are a brutal process for females.
Silkies caught the attention of breeders around the world and now silkbacks can be obtained from breeders all across North America and Europe. Selective breeding often leads to thinning of the gene pool and the expression of weak characteristics because of possible inbreeding. This can lead to future generations of silkbacks becoming progressively weaker and sickly. Mating two silkback dragons produce more silkbacks but the process is particularly difficult for females.
Why You Should Not Own A Silkback Bearded Dragon
There are many downfalls to the exotic appearance of silkback bearded dragons because their mutation affects the scales of their skin, which is a primary protection of beardies against the elements. Aside from aesthetics, this mutation does not provide any real advantage for the animal. This is why in nature, silkback bearded dragons are extremely rare.
Breeding is ethically questionable
The act of breeding for normal bearded dragons is already quite exhaustive in itself, especially for the females, and this becomes even more painful for silkbacks because of their condition. Male bearded dragons often bite the back of a female’s neck during mating and this is quite painful because of the softer skin of silkbacks. Egg-laying can also be agony for female silkbacks because of the more fragile bodies of these special morphs.
Silkback bearded dragons are selectively bred to help express the recessive trait of the absence of dorsal and ventral scales. However, this condition makes the silkback dragon’s skin extremely sensitive and they require special care throughout their lives.
These difficulties then pose a question on the ethics of breeding these types of dragons. The only reason breeding silkback dragons is practiced is because it’s lucrative. Because of their rarity, they fetch a very steep price on the market.
Silkbacks can grow to have numerous health issues
The skin of silkback bearded dragons is quite vulnerable because of the absence of scales. They become dehydrated quite easily so more frequent baths are needed to promote healthy circulation and aid in shedding.
It’s also important that their enclosures are set up without any sharp objects that can accidentally snag on their skin. This means substrate, branches, plants, even lighting should be planned carefully for a silkback’s enclosure.
Silkbacks should always be housed alone as well since keeping them with other animals, even non-aggressive lizards could cause accidents that can harm their skin.
There’s also a chance that next-generation silkback dragons are produced via inbreeding which results in more sickly animals.
Buying Silkbacks encourages more breeding
More responsible breeders will not produce these morphs believing it to be unethical due to the health issues the mutation results in. Silkbacks can be aesthetically pleasing but they are very vulnerable due to the absence of scales. However, as long as there are buyers, it will encourage the breeding of silkbacks.
How To Care For Silkback Bearded Dragons
Lighting & Temperature Requirements
Bearded dragons still require proper UV lighting and heat but since they lack the scales regular bearded dragons do, their protection against UV light is much lower than in genetically normal lizards. Therefore, if you have a silkback bearded dragon you should opt for a UVB light that produces a more moderate spectrum of UVB rays or place your UVB lamp higher in the cage. The same thing applies to the heat lamp and basking spot. Make sure it is not too close to each other. In addition, more hiding places should be provided in their enclosure.
Your silkback’s tank should not contain objects that could harm your silkbacks skin. Avoid porous backing logs, aggressive soils, or anything with sharp edges. Silkbacks bruise their skin very easily so you should make sure their terrarium is as safe as possible. Make sure there are no tiny spaces where their toes or legs could get caught.
Choose shredded newspapers as substrate for your silkback bearded dragon to maintain its environment as soft as possible. Their tank should also include a shaded area to protect them from excessive UVB light and heat exposure.
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Diet and Nutrition
Silkback bearded dragons should follow the same diet as normal bearded dragons, a varied mix between vegetables and invertebrates (mealworms, crickets, etc). However, to maintain their skin in an optimal state, you should make sure your silkback drinks enough water or gets more frequent baths.
Shedding is particularly challenging for silkbacks. Silverbacks shed more often than regular bearded dragons do. When they shed, their skin comes off in very uneven ways, leaving patches of dead skin attached to silverbacks and causing dryness.
To tackle the problems that shedding conveys for silverbacks, it is necessary to keep the humidity levels higher than with regular lizards to prevent the skin from drying off and falling. Bathing also helps with shedding and prevents constriction.
If some small parts of the skin get stuck around the toes and tail, these can be very very gently rubbed with a soft towel to aid in shedding. Never pull on your dragon’s skin.
Do Silkback Bearded Dragons Make Good Pets?
No, silkback bearded dragons do not make good pets. At ReptileKnowHow, we do not advocate for owning this morpho of bearded dragon due to the painful problems they experience. Even if you can meet the many care requirements of your silverback, it is possible that you still face many challenges. Silkbacks are very fragile by nature and it is almost impossible to provide them with a life in good health that they deserve. One of the main problems you might face is that it is almost impossible to find a veterinarian that knows how to treat them. Also, since they are a very recent mutation, there is not much literature written on them
Silkback Bearded Dragons are smooth, bright-colored, scale-less beardies borne from a genetic mutation. They are propagated through the selective breeding of two leatherback bearded dragons or by mating two silkbacks. However, they are very vulnerable because of the condition that makes them aesthetically unique, and breeding them is often painful for the female. Their condition also requires special care. Because of this, breeding is seen as unethical and ownership of a silkback encourages breeding to continue.
Are Silkback bearded dragons bad?
Silkback bearded dragons are just genetically different bearded dragons, which is not bad in themselves. However, breeding presents many moral contradictions, as their health is very fragile and their life is strongly conditioned by their genetic defects. Also, there is little reliable information written about silkies, and many myths have been created around their characteristics. The lack of proper care guides and the result of recent internet discussions about how ethical it is to have a silkback bearded dragon should discourage potential owners from buying silkies.
What is a Silkback bearded dragon?
A silkback beardie is a lizard with two mutated genes. This mutation impedes silkback bearded dragons from forming scales and spikes, giving them a distinctively smooth and more colorful appearance.
Can I moisturize my bearded dragon?
Hydration is key if you have a silkback bearded dragon. Moisturizing them often will help their skin to maintain its flexibility and consistency and not shed before time. Besides keeping them hydrated through their diet and moist environment, you should moisturize your beardie with either glycerine or aloe vera. You should never try to moisturize your beardie with oil, as it would seriously damage their skin under the basking light.
Articles on Silkback Beardies and Scale-less Beardies
Scales save bearded dragons from dehydration | Journal of Experimental Biology
The Physiological and Behavioural Consequences of Reduced Scalation in Captive-bred Phenotypes of the Bearded Dragon (Pogona vitticeps Ahl 1926)
Bearded dragons (Pogona vitticeps) with reduced scalation lose water faster but do not have substantially different thermal preferences | Journal of Experimental Biology
Overview on Bearded Dragons:
Bearded dragons: facts and photos