So you’ve decided to get a bearded dragon. You got in your car and went to your local pet store to buy one. You figured you’d go in, ask for a bearded dragon, get your new pet, and head home. Easy, right?
Then you walked in and saw that they not only have “standard” bearded dragons, but they also have “fancy” or “premium” beardies. And one costs significantly more than the other.
Is there a difference? Is one more challenging to care for? Does one make a better pet than the other? Is “fancy” or “premium” worth more money?
To help you answer these questions, let’s take a closer look at the fancy bearded dragon.
- Standard and fancy bearded dragons are sold at major pet stores.
- Fancy is the same as premium.
- Fancy beardies are usually more colorful.
- Color and price are the only differences.
- Neither requires special care.
- Morphs are specially bred with unique characteristics.
- Morphs can be very expensive.
What is a Fancy Bearded Dragon?
“Fancy” (aka premium) is a term used by pet stores to describe bearded dragons with colors brighter than the natural coloring found in the wild. Premium beardies are often a mix of red, orange, or yellow and come at a 20%-50% higher price. Fancy bearded dragons do not require any special care.
The first important thing to know is that the terms “fancy” and “premium” are only used by pet stores (and usually only big box stores like PetSmart or Petco). These are not terms used by zoologists, herpetologists, breeders, or reputable reptile stores.
The second important thing to know is that standard, fancy, and premium bearded dragons are the same breed and species: Pogona Vitticeps. Other than the coloring and price, there is virtually no difference!
Fancy vs. Premium
Why do some stores call the more colorful variety fancy while others call it premium? Marketing.
One company thinks you’ll spend more on a fancy bearded dragon, and the other thinks the word premium will garner a higher price tag.
Regardless of what the store associates might tell you, there is absolutely no biological difference between the two.
The only real difference you might see is the coloration. That’s not due to a difference between fancy and premium. The color difference is only there because no two beardies are alike!
All bearded dragons vary in color and pattern. It’s like they have their own colorful beardie fingerprints.
Are Fancy Bearded Dragons Worth More Money Than Standard Bearded Dragons?
As long as you understand that the only difference is coloration, you should buy whichever version appeals to you the most.
There is no other difference. Don’t let any store employee tell you that the premium beardies are better in any way.
They don’t live longer, aren’t specially bred, and aren’t imported from somewhere exotic. ALL beardies sold in the US are bred in captivity in the US as Australia does not allow the export of bearded dragons. (source)
So, if you like the idea of your new little scaly friend having brighter colors and more intricate patterns, go for it! If that’s not something you care about, then save your money. It’s totally up to you what you want from your new pet.
Premium Bearded Dragons vs. Morphs
Sometimes, people call a colorful beardie a “morph.” This is inaccurate. Bearded dragons naturally vary widely in coloration without becoming a different type of beardie.
A bearded dragon morph is a specially bred bearded dragon with very specific physical traits and features. With intriguing names like “zeros,” “witblits,” and “leatherbacks,” morphs are highly sought after and can go for hundreds, even thousands of dollars.
Morphs are usually only found at reptile conventions or breeders. Occasionally, you’ll find them at small, single-owner exotic pet stores. You won’t find them at big box pet stores or stores that don’t specialize in reptiles.
We’ve heard some people call fancy or premium bearded dragons morphs, but this is incorrect. Morphs have very specific physical traits, and there are a minimal number of recognized morphs in the world.
The legitimate bearded dragon breeding community recognizes eleven distinct morphs. Simply having a different color or pattern does not make a bearded dragon a morph. It simply means they are a different color or pattern. (source)
Here is a quick rundown of the recognized morphs:
- Classic/Standard – These are the beardies you’ll find at the pet store, regardless of color.
- Leatherback – Smooth back with no spikes and more vibrant colorations.
- Translucent – Skin that’s almost see-through, especially when young.
- Dunner – Bred by Kevin Dunn, these are marked by a specific pattern of color and scales that grow in random directions.
- Hypomelanistic – More of a pastel coloration with mostly clear nails.
- Silkback – Extremely soft with no scales and the brightest coloration of any morph.
- Paradox – Translucent with stark patches of color.
- German Giant – Extremely rare, this is the largest morph.
- Witblits – No patterns and very pale colorations. One of the most expensive morphs.
- Zero – Completely colorless and without a pattern.
- Wero – Cross between a Witblit and a Zero.
How To Tell Them Apart
So, how do you know which is which? How can you tell if a bearded dragon is standard, fancy, or a morph?
A big part of this is trusting the place where you are buying your beardie. It is tough to identify the differences, especially when the bearded dragon is young.
Brighter coloring might not develop until they are older. Buying a more mature bearded dragon will allow you to see these changes. It’s much easier to identify things on an adult than on a younger dragon. But what if you want a baby or a juvenile?
You can trust your local pet store if you know you aren’t shopping for a morph. Even at a young age, it’s easy to see the difference in color on the beardie you buy.
We highly recommend seeking a reputable breeder if you are shopping for a morph. Exotic pet stores like Curious Creatures in Chicago can refer you to a breeder. We like well-established reptile shows too. That’s a great place to go just for fun, but these shows are a wonderful way to see all the available beardie varieties.
Another option is to ask a qualified herp vet. We love our vet and they are always open to answering questions for us. It’s a good idea to find a good vet prior to getting a beardie anyway, so they can also assist in the process of buying your new pet too!
Buying a pet is a very personal decision. My dog is an Australian Cattle dog. I love that breed. I love the way they look and the way they behave. Other people feel differently and prefer other breeds. No one is right or wrong.
It’s the same when buying a bearded dragon as a pet. Some people prefer the less expensive standard bearded dragon. Others like a little more color and will spend a bit more on that. And some people want to have a pet as unique as they are and spend quite a bit of money on a rare morph.
We recommend doing a little research and seeing which type appeals to you the most. No matter which variety you get, you’ll get a great pet!