Bearded dragons are beautiful creatures that many people adore and enjoy having as pets. However, it can be concerning when your bearded dragon’s beard changes from its normal color to black. A lot of people think it means they are angry. While that can be the case sometimes, there are many more reasons that your scaly little friend’s beard has changed colors!
Since your beardie can’t talk, they have to communicate with you in other ways. One of the biggest ways they do this is when they turn their beard black. Knowing exactly what your beardie is trying to tell you with this color change will make you and your beardie a lot happier!
Why Does a Bearded Dragon Turn Its Beard Black?
A bearded dragon’s beard turns black because they are under stress. This is a natural response and is rarely cause for worry. Most times, your bearded dragon will calm itself, and its beard will return to normal. Only when their beard stays black for an extended time is there cause to worry.
The most common reasons that your bearded dragon experiences stress:
- They are in a bad mood.
- They want to be left alone.
- They are angry.
- They are scared.
- They are sick.
- They are cold.
- They are hungry.
- They are dehydrated.
- They are feeling territorial
- They are ready to mate
Admittedly, this is a long list of potential reasons why your beardie’s beard is black, but learning more about each of the potential stressors can help you determine which of the sources are most likely causing the change in color. In some cases, the change is normal and nothing to be alarmed about; in others, it is a sign of problematic discomfort, and there are ways you can remedy the situation. Most times, it’s an easy fix for you, the beardie parent!
What Does Your Bearded Dragon’s Black Beard Mean?
Changing skin color is an incredible evolutionary quality that enables reptiles like bearded dragons to camouflage with their environments and communicates certain messages to humans or other animals. The process is both natural and impressive.
By altering the way that natural pigments or cellular crystal formations are distributed inside their skin cells, these stunning reptiles can change the way light reflects off their skin, resulting in the illusion of a new color.
Beardies use black as a signal for stress or intimidation because it is a particularly dramatic, noticeable color. This is why the color black is effective in the wild when a beardie may be trying to impress a potential mate or ward off a predator. It also communicates the information that they are stressed or sick, which is helpful for a human to understand in order to meet the beardie’s current needs.
Another important signaling function is to let other beardies in the wild know they are sick. It’s important for the species as a whole to avoid contact or mating with sick beardies. A black beard can effectively ward off contact with other bearded dragons.
Most of the time, a black beard and skin on bearded dragons is an exterior signal to you that something is wrong with your bearded dragon, but sometimes it is only natural and momentary.
There are three major categories of stressors: Emotional, Physical, and Social. As a beardie parent, distinguishing between the three is an important skill.
Like any other animal, bearded dragons experience a range of emotions. If a bearded dragon feels safe and comfortable in its environment, it will show its contentment through normal coloration. If it feels stressed, angry, or scared, its beard will likely turn black. Let’s look at each cause on its own.
When you first bring your bearded dragon home, do not be alarmed if its beard immediately turns black. This is probably due to the fact that your beardie had grown accustomed to its previous environment at a shop or another person’s home, and the change in their environment is stressful.
The bearded dragon now has to learn how to adapt to its new environment by getting used to the home and the people that live there. In this case, you do not need to be alarmed about the change in their beard’s darkness. After a few days or weeks, as they acclimate to their new home, their beard will slowly go back to its normal color.
If your bearded dragon is angry, its beard may turn black. It wants to make sure that everyone knows that it is angry, so it sends a clear, visible signal. (source)
Once it calms down, its beard will slowly turn back to its normal color. If your bearded dragon seems to be angry for a long time, try to figure out what is angering it and remove it. Sometimes this could mean that the beardie has been physically handled beyond its level of comfort, so try giving it a break from human contact.
Other times, it may be aggravated by other pets or children in the home, in which case it is important to separate them. If your bearded dragon’s beard is only partially black and is puffed up slightly, this simply means that they are momentarily irritated. Leave them alone, and the color will likely go back to normal.
If your beardie’s beard is black and puffed up, it could also mean that it is scared. The black color is used to scare away predators when bearded dragons are in the wild.
Remove anything in the area that may be perceived as a threat, including you or other animals that may typically be free to roam the house. If you don’t want to leave the room, give them space.
For a young or newly purchased bearded dragon, the sensation of being held by a human can be incredibly unnatural and alarming. They may get scared when you handle them if they aren’t used to it yet, so give them space and time to adjust to your presence. (source)
Another common cause of fear in bearded dragons is loud noises. This includes movies, music, and TV. Loud noises late at night can be particularly startling. This is why it’s critical to place your beardie’s home in an appropriate place.
Bearded dragons respond to physical stress with a physical signal. If a beardie is sick, cold, or extremely hungry, its discomfort will manifest in dark coloration because the creature does not feel well. These are important stressors to pay attention to, as they involve your beardie’s overall health.
A sick bearded dragon will have a black beard because it is stressed and uncomfortable. If your bearded dragon has a black beard and seems to be unusually lethargic, it is likely sick. Causes of sickness range from an unclean environment or an unhealthy diet to poor lighting or a crowded enclosure.
There are several common illnesses in bearded dragons, and all will cause them to turn their beards black. Whether it’s something common like an impaction or something less common and more serious like metabolic bone disease, it’s critical to have a good relationship with an exotics vet so you have someone to turn to for help in these situations!
If your bearded dragon is going through brumation, its beard may turn black. Like hibernation, brumation is a period of dormancy. Animals will normally go into brumation when the environment gets cold, burrowing into the ground or sleeping until temperatures rise back to comfortable levels.
Depending on the season or time of the year, brumation may be totally natural. But in a temperature-controlled enclosure, it is less frequent because it is not as necessary. If your bearded dragon just went through brumation and their beard is black, wait a few weeks, and it will go away; they are still getting acclimated to the change in weather. After their body adjusts, their beard will become bright again.
One of the most important things to get right when raising a bearded dragon is the temperature in the tank. They need a hot side and a cool side, and the temps in those two areas should be monitored closely. For a complete guide on tank temps for bearded dragons, check out our article here!
One last point that’s adjacent to temperature is humidity. This is another environmental factor that needs monitoring, and you can read all about tank humidity here!
Sometimes, a black beard is a signal of malnourishment. Beardies can be picky eaters, so it’s important to find food they’ll love and that’s good for them. We created the ultimate bearded dragon feeding guide so you know exactly what to feed your beardie. We also created a quick reference food list that you can download for free!
If your bearded dragon is not eating, it’s important to check with your vet. It could be something as simple as the start of brumation, or it could be the sign of impaction. Impaction will certainly cause a black beard, and it’s crucial to catch this as early as possible.
Lastly, make sure they have ready access to water. This is a hot topic of debate in the beardie community, but we feel pretty strongly about this and outline why in this article. Water is so important that we even wrote a separate article about the right type of water for your beardie!
Bearded dragons are not social creatures, and much of their well-being depends on secure social interaction with their human owners. If your beardie feels territorial or is ready to mate, its beard will turn black. You’ll be able to discern social stressors if your beardie has had very little interaction with people or other animals or if another pet in the house has been bothering it.
Too Much Attention
If your bearded dragon wants less attention, its beard will turn black. If you suspect they are overstimulated you might try letting them be alone for a day or three. (source)
Most beardies really enjoy being held and petted. This simple level of contact can improve their mood significantly and help the beard return to its original color. If there are children in the house, they might be a great source of interest and entertainment. Just be sure that if they are holding your beardie, it is under adult supervision.
If, during handling, their beard turns black, it’s time to put them back in their homes. You or your children might want to spend more time with them, but a black beard is their way of telling you they want to be left alone.
Too much attention is not limited to direct handling. Too many people around the tank making too much noise can also stress your bearded dragon. In the wild, they are solitary creatures. Any interaction with others is not in their nature, so let them guide you as to what is appropriate or not!
Bearded dragons are extremely territorial, and if they feel like their space is being threatened or challenged, they will turn their beards black in an attempt to intimidate or scare away the perceived threat (source). This will likely only be the reason their beard is black if there is another bearded dragon in their enclosure at the same time.
It is absolutely NOT recommended to keep more than one bearded dragon in a tank. Despite our human perceptions, they do not need or want a friend. They do not get lonely. They have lived in solitude for thousands of years and having a home in your living room is not normal for them!
If you want more than one beardie, they each need their own separate enclosure!
If your bearded dragon wants to attract a mate, they will turn their beards black (source). This dark, bold color is an evolutionary behavior developed to captivate the attention of other bearded dragons. Typically, male bearded dragons are the only ones that will turn their beards black to attract a mate.
If your bearded dragon’s beard is black because it is trying to attract a mate (which will likely only happen if there is a bearded dragon of the other sex in the enclosure with them), leave them alone. If you don’t want your bearded dragons to mate, put them in separate enclosures. This will make your bearded dragon’s beard go back to its normal color, as they won’t be trying to attract a mate anymore. (source)
Bearded dragons are fascinating, unique reptiles to have as pets. Sometimes a black beard is a normal, natural sign of anger, fear, or stress, and the color and inflammation will recede naturally. Other times, it is important to address hunger or illness as these stressors can be dangerous to your beardie’s overall health.
Though it can be overwhelming for a new owner to feel competent in understanding and addressing the needs of their beardie, rest assured that it will come naturally with practice! The more time that you own your beardie and the more time you spend interacting with it, the easier it will be for you to discern which of these stressors it is prone to experience and how to help it return to feeling comfortable, healthy, and secure.