When talking about reptiles of any kind, “Are they poisonous?” is a very common question. This is especially true when talking about reptiles being kept as pets. Most people want no part of handling a poisonous animal, much less keeping one as a pet.
So it’s no surprise how often we get asked about our bearded dragon. When people find out we have a bearded dragon, there is a pretty standard series of questions that follow. “Does she bite” and “Is she poisonous?” are usually two of the first asked.
Bearded dragons are not poisonous to humans. They do secrete a venom used to paralyze small prey animals, but due to the minute amount produced, they cannot cause serious harm to people. A bite may cause temporary swelling, but biting is a rare occurrence from this generally docile creature.
Poison is defined as “a substance capable of causing the illness or death of a living organism when introduced or absorbed.” Venom is defined as “a poisonous substance secreted by animals such as snakes, spiders, and scorpions and typically injected into prey or aggressors by biting or stinging.”
So technically, bearded dragons are poisonous. But when people ask that question, they don’t care about technicalities. What they mean is, “are they poisonous to me?” The answer to that is no; they are not.
Are all lizards poisonous?
Generally, as reported by ABC Science, venom was always traditionally associated with snakes. According to the report, “about 2500 out of the 3000 snake species around the world are venomous.”
In 2005, Australian scientists discovered that a specific family of lizards (one that includes iguanas, komodo dragons, Gila monsters, and our friend the bearded dragon) all carry venom to a certain degree.
Even more interesting is that the venom found in this family of lizards is genetically identical to known snake venom varieties. Bearded dragon venom actually contains some rattlesnake toxins.
It started with a bitten finger.
So how did anyone figure out that bearded dragons have venom? Why look in the first place? It all started with a bitten finger.
Dr. Bryan Fry from the University of Melbourne’s Australian Venom Research Unit was bitten on the finger by a bearded dragon. The bite swelled up, turned a little red, and hurt. This didn’t last long, but it was long enough to make him wonder what caused it.
The commonly accepted answer was bacteria. Bearded dragons have bacteria in their mouths, which was always assumed to cause the inflammation. But something didn’t seem right to the Dr., and he decided to look further.
“The researchers then began comparing these genes to those for snake venom. “We isolated some rattlesnake toxins from the bearded dragons and started getting really excited,” Dr. Fry said. Further research turned up venom genes in other species.”
Refined remains of ancient genes
When determining why the amount of venom is so small in bearded dragons compared to their much more venomous counterparts (snakes, Gila monsters, and Mexican beaded lizards), some believe that the need for venom has been evolutionarily limited to just what is needed for the small prey eaten by bearded dragons.
While it would be handy for them to have enough venom to ward off predators, evolution has decided otherwise. This is good news for us, as humans. Beardies would certainly not make ideal pets if they could kill us!
Instead, the worst we may get if bitten is a swollen finger or some redness—nothing to worry about at all!
Venom is a loaded word.
We hesitated a little before writing this article as words like “poison” and “venom” are scary words. Our intention at Beardie Bungalow is to show how to take proper care of bearded dragons and show what great pets they can be.
When we start talking about them sharing the venom of rattlesnakes, that’s bound to scare people off. But it shouldn’t.
We want to reemphasize the amount of “venom” we are talking about here. It’s enough to immobilize tiny prey. Small mice weighing just a few grams. It doesn’t even kill them. It just slows them down.
When you consider just how much larger even a small human is than those tiny prey animals, you begin to see what a non-issue this is. There is virtually nothing to be even slightly concerned with here.
In fact, if we wanted to talk about things beardie related that are possibly harmful to humans, their venom would be very low on the list!
Are bearded dragons dangerous to humans in other ways?
If you take a bite from a bearded dragon, it’s not a big deal at all. With a large dragon, it may hurt a bit, but that’s it. If you are concerned about this, we put together a guide on bearded dragon bites that you can see here.
Outside of that, there are only a couple of ways that bearded dragons could harm humans.
The first is salmonella. As with many reptiles from turtles to frogs to other types of lizards, bearded dragons can have salmonella present in their feces. Salmonella is a lot more dangerous to humans than their venom is.
And it’s exceptionally easily avoidable:
- Don’t put their poop in your mouth or near your face! Pretty easy, right?!
- Wash your hands both before and after handling your beardie.
We like to point out that you should follow these two rules with every pet, no matter what kind! This is not a problem unique to beardies. Animals have germs. Some of those germs can pose problems to people. So wash your hands!
The second possible issue beardies can pass to humans is parasites. Most commonly, pinworms. While a considerable inconvenience, pinworms are not deadly. And like the salmonella listed above, they are easily avoidable.
Start by not feeding your bearded dragon crickets. Crickets are the number one source of pinworms in beardies. Crickets are terrible little animals, and we do not recommend feeding them to your beardie. Pinworms are only one of many reasons.
After that, keep your beardie from eating wild insects. That’s not a good idea for more reasons than just pinworms. Insecticides, fertilizers, and pesticides are on the list along with parasites as reasons not to let your beardie eat wild bugs.
In the end, venom, salmonella, and parasites aren’t anything to be concerned about. Basic care and feeding of your beardie, along with careful handling, will ensure you won’t run into any of the three.
A vast majority of bearded dragon owners who follow the guidelines we go over here on Beardie Bungalow never do!
Bearded dragons are docile.
One of the many reasons bearded dragons make great pets is that they are docile. With a few exceptions (almost always the result of abuse or improper care), beardies rarely bite.
90% of the time, bites can be avoided. See our full step by step guide, with pictures, on how to safely pick up a bearded dragon without getting bitten to see how to handle a bearded dragon safely.
Treat your beardie well, handled them properly, raise them right! Follow those guidelines, and you’ll never need to worry about being bitten. And even if you do, venom is not something to be concerned about!
If bearded dragons are docile, why would they bite in the first place?
By nature, they are a docile animal. This is why they are so popular as pets. But they are still wild animals, and several things can cause a bearded dragon to bit.
If they are hungry, they may see your finger as food. If they are stressed, they may see your hand as a threat. If you pick them up the wrong way, they may see you as a predator.
Do bearded dragons have sharp teeth?
Yes, they do. In fact, they are quite sharp. Their back teeth are permanent, but their front teeth can and do fall out, only to be replaced by new ones. This allows them to bite aggressively without worrying about damaging their teeth.
We’ve been nipped a few times while giving our beardie food from our hands (not the best idea, by the way), and while she’s never drawn blood, we have felt how sharp her teeth are first hand!
Are bearded dragons a safe pet for children?
Yes! Beardies make great pets for kids. They are generally good-natured and very easy to care for. They are popular with kids and their friends and make a great low maintenance pet for the parents. We cover this in detail in our article on beardies and kids here!
It is essential, however, to teach children the correct way to handle a bearded dragon. This is to protect both them and the beardie.
Tim Steward is a life long pet owner who is currently raising a beautiful little beardie named Bacardi. He and his girlfriend Cassidy (the other contributor here on Beardie Bungalow) adopted Bacardi from a University rescue. After nursing her through some serious health problems, all 3 are now happy and healthy and living in northeastern Illinois.