Bearded dragons are amazing reptiles making waves in the reptile trade. They are gorgeous specimens that can reach 24 inches in length and live up to 10-15 years in optimal conditions.
Today, we will discuss bearded dragons, but from a different perspective. In other words, we will talk about the beardie’s tongue, its utility, and potential problems to consider.
So, let’s start with the beginning.
Anatomy of Bearded Dragon Tongue
Bearded dragon tongues are thicker than most reptiles, partly due to the lizard’s impressive size.
The tongue has a forked tip, which is normal for reptiles, except the separation is barely visible. Only the very tip is forked, and the lobes are tiny, barely visible.
Interestingly, bearded dragons have short but powerful tongues. Their tongues don’t really extend past the beard line.
Bearded Dragon Tongue Function
Interestingly, bearded dragons use their tongues in more ways than humans use theirs.
Here’s what I mean by that:
- Hunting – The dragon’s tongue is sticky, thick, and powerful, and the lizard can propel it at great speeds to catch unsuspecting prey. The tongue will stick to the insect and retract, dragging the prey into the lizard’s mouth. This very effective hunting method allows bearded dragons to catch their favorite insects from a distance.
- Cooling – Lizards cannot sweat to regulate their body temperatures, so they use their tongues instead. You can tell that the dragon is feeling hot if its mouth is open. Bearded dragons keep their mouths open when the temperature is too high. Doing so exposes the tongue, allowing the vascularized organ to cool off the blood reaching the surface and direct it to other areas of the body. The lizard can cool off quite effectively this way. You can see the dragon keeping its mouth open when resting in the basking spot.
- Grooming – Bearded dragons often use their tongues to lick their bodies and remove dirt and dust. They’re not as effective as cats in this sense, but they can get the job done.
- Smell and taste – Bearded dragons often lick various things, including you, to catch the scent and taste of the ‘object.’ They achieve this thanks to the Jacobson organ situated on the mouth palate.
As you can see, the dragon’s tongue fulfills multiple roles and may be more complex than you have imagined.
Bearded Dragon Tongue Problems
Bearded dragons have several tongue problems to consider.
- Mouth rot – This is a bacterial infection causing the tongue to turn white. The exact symptoms may vary depending on the disease’s severity. The important aspect here is to detect and treat the condition early on. Mouth rot is an aggressive bacterial infection that can lead to tissue necrosis, septicemia, and death.
- Ulcers and injuries – These can occur due to accidents or bacterial or parasitic infections. They are more common among bearded dragons who share their space with other dragons. These lizards are known to have little patience or consideration for other members of their species.
- Viral infections – Erythrocytic iridovirus is the main culprit here. This viral agent can cause tongue discoloration, open ulcers, stomatitis, and even secondary infections as if things weren’t bad enough. As for the bad news, this condition is incurable and always leads to a painful, slow, but sure death. Euthanasia is most often the only option. Even so, contact your vet if you suspect that your dragon may have an iridovirus infection. The vet may have some better insight into the matter.
- Cancer – Bearded dragons can develop a form of aggressive cancer called melanoma. This type of cancer causes black spots on the affected area and can appear anywhere in or on the body. Your dragon’s tongue may turn black if affected by melanoma. Only an expert vet can deal with this issue, although it’s unlikely that any treatment will work.
- Metabolic Bone Disease – This isn’t actually a tongue condition but a skeletal one linked to poor calcium absorption. However, the reptile’s tongue can exhibit specific symptoms to help you diagnose the condition accurately. Bearded dragons affected by MBD have bleeding or swollen tongues. Other symptoms of MBD include lethargy, difficulty moving and climbing, lack of appetite, deformed spine, swollen limbs, etc. If your dragon shows signs of MBD, contact your vet immediately. MDB is fatal in advanced phases.
Fortunately, you can decrease the likelihood of your bearded dragon contracting any tongue-related disease or infection. Keep the lizard’s habitat clean and well-maintained, avoid rugged or sharp decorations and substrates, and always monitor your gecko’s health status.
I recommend contacting your reptile vet at the first sign of trouble, even if you think the problem is mild and manageable.
Fun Facts About Bearded Dragon Tongue
The following fun facts about bearded dragon tongues may come as a surprise, at least for some of you:
- Tongue flicking – Bearded dragons use their tongues to smell their environment. This is typical behavior among reptiles. They may even lick various objects to taste them and place them in specific mental categories.
- Tongue protrusion – Bearded dragons are iguanian lizards known only to protrude their tongues for 30% of their total mandible length. Lizards use hyolingual muscles to propel and retract their tongues at high speed when hunting.
- Mating uses – Bearded dragons use their lips and tongues during the mating phase. No, it’s not what you think. Rather, these lizards use these organs to produce specific smacking sounds designed to attract their mate. This is only one of the several pre-mating behaviors that males will resort to when ‘hunting’ for their mate.
- Claiming its territory – Territorial behaviors are common among pretty much all creatures, except that bearded dragons use their tongues in the process. In short, they lick their ‘property’ to spread their scent and inform other dragons of their territorial limits. Yes, this is one of the reasons why your bearded dragon licks you each time you pick it up. Sweet, isn’t it?
- Appreciation and affection – You may have heard that reptiles aren’t exactly social animals, so you shouldn’t expect signs of affection from them. However, bearded dragons are different. They often lick their keepers to show their comfort level and affection, which only happens after a bond has already formed between you 2.
- Reproduction – Bearded dragons flick their tongues to collect airborne pheromones and learn about the female’s location, distance, and sexual availability.
As you can see, we could learn a thing or two about tongue usage from bearded dragons.
The bearded dragon tongue isn’t only a hunting tool. This appendix is useful in numerous other areas, as it helps your beardie make sense of the world around it.
The tongue’s appearance also speaks volumes about the dragon’s health status, allowing you to detect signs of dehydration, infection, injuries, and other diseases.
Always check your dragon’s tongue if you suspect the lizard may be sick.