Bearded dragons aren’t known for their ability to change their color. This means that any color change you observe usually tells something about your lizard. Whether that’s good or bad is up to you to decide based on the situation.
Today, we will discuss a rather worrying color change in bearded dragons that’s fairly common: the reptile turning black.
Bearded dragons don’t generally turn black for no reason, so let’s see what this is all about!
Why Bearded Dragon is Turning Black?
If you notice your bearded dragon turning black, consider the following potential explanations:
1. Regulate Body Temperature
Bearded dragons tend to turn black if their habitat is too cold. The darker color is meant to attract more sunlight and heat, allowing the lizard to warm up better.
Bearded dragons have a core temperature of approximately 97.3 F, which is optimal for most individuals. This means that they require slightly higher environmental temperatures compared to other reptiles.
When setting up the animal’s habitat, aim for the following temperature structure:
- Cold area – 71-77 F – This is where bearded dragons come to cool off and drop their body temperature a bit when things get too hot.
- Main dwelling area – 80-95 F – This is the dragon’s main dwelling area. The range simply means that the temperature can fall anywhere between those values but should preferably get closer to 90-92 F for maximum comfort.
- Basking area – 105-110 F – The basking spot should occupy around 30-35% of the enclosure’s entire surface. This is where bearded dragons come to warm up when needed. They won’t spend too much time in the basking spot, and they will primarily use it after eating to kick-start their metabolism and speed up the digestive process.
If your dragon is suddenly turning black, check the environmental temperature immediately. Bearded dragons can get stressed out when cold and may exhibit a variety of other symptoms like lethargy, low appetite, and sickness.
The latter is because their immune system drops along with the temperature, rendering the lizards more prone to health issues.
2. Territorial Aggression
Male bearded dragons are extremely territorial toward one another, and they exhibit a variety of behaviors when in combat. One of them is the blackening of the skin, which is a sign of aggression and dominance.
The good news is that your beardie has no reason to turn black out of territorial aggression if no other male is present in the enclosure. But if there is one, now you know what triggered that behavior.
Fortunately, you can keep several bearded dragons in the same enclosure; it’s just that you need to be wary of the risks. Bearded dragons are less antisocial than other reptile species, but they aren’t exactly friendly either.
They prefer to have their personal space and remain within their territorial boundaries for comfort and security. They also don’t like to share food or any other resources for that matter.
So, always keep your eye on your beardie pairs or groups, even if you only have one male per tank.
Males and females only work together during the breeding season, outside of which they can get cranky with one another.
3. New Environment
This is common with most bearded dragons. These animals don’t like change and will take a while to adapt to a new setting. Your dragon may exhibit a variety of behavioral changes upon arriving in its new home.
These include hiding, low appetite, black coloring, mild aggression, and general irritability, which is fine.
You can ease your lizard’s transition by:
- Giving it space to become accustomed to its new home
- Having at least one hiding spot where it can retreat to cool off
- Providing it with fresh food regularly, even if it’s not eating it; the reptile’s instincts will soon overcome its discomfort
- Keeping the lights moderate-to-low to diminish the animal’s stress
- Avoiding any direct interactions or even sudden movements near the animal’s enclosure to prevent stress
Even if it’s not eating or coming out of its hiding spot much, your dragon should be fine.
This is all part of the accommodation process and shouldn’t last more than a couple of days, depending on the case.
4. Mating Behavior
Male beardies tend to turn black during the mating phase, especially when dealing with another male with the same intentions.
The black coloring is an indication of the 2 dragons’ competitive nature, which often bursts into open violence. The winner gets to have the female.
But what if your dragons turn black during mating, except you only have one male per enclosure? Don’t worry, this is also natural. Both males and females tend to turn black to make their intentions known.
Males change their color to signal the female their intentions, while females do so as a sign that they’ve accepted the courtship.
If your dragons turn black while performing their mating dance, you’ve already figured out the cause.
5. Health Issues
Now we’re getting into the serious side of things because bearded dragons can also turn black when sick. These animals can experience a variety of health issues, depending on the situation.
- Respiratory problems – Usually triggered by improper substrate creating dust particles that the dragon can inhale, improper humidity, bacterial or fungal growths, etc. The blackening of the skin may be one of the first signs of disease-related stress, but you should keep an eye out for additional symptoms. These include coughing, breathing difficulty, sneezing and wheezing, etc.
- Skin infections – Skin infections can have a variety of triggers, including improper temperature, improper humidity, skin mites, infected wounds, bacteria, improper shedding (dysecdysis), etc. Skin infections can vary in severity, depending on the cause, and require immediate treatment to prevent them from worsening. Antibiotic medication and skin ointments may be necessary based on your vet’s recommendations.
- Digestive problems – If your beardie is to experience any health problem, it will most likely be one of digestive nature. Bearded dragons can experience constipation, diarrhea, and impaction as the main digestive issues with a variety of potential causes. These include poor food, insufficient water, intestinal parasites, ingesting large food items or objects that aren’t meant to be swallowed, etc. Your beardie will exhibit a variety of symptoms, including inflamed cloaca, enlarged belly, visible stress, diarrhea, etc.
Several other health issues may be at play, including skin mites, parasites, internal injuries, mouth rot, etc.
The lizard will exhibit different symptoms for each condition, depending on its specifics, but it will also showcase general symptoms which are simply indicative of the animal’s discomfort. The blackening of the skin is one of them.
6. Stress or Fear
This is a tricky one because bearded dragons can experience stress for a variety of reasons. Pretty much all of the above can cause stress to some degree.
Placing the reptile in a new home, underfeeding it, ignoring its health disorders, overhandling it, and not managing its environmental parameters properly can cause stress, which will ultimately impact the animal’s wellbeing.
Stressed bearded dragons exhibit low appetite and hiding behavior and will soon become sick due to a faulty immune system.
Stress is even deadlier for reptiles in general than it is for humans or other animals due to the tight connection between their immune systems and mental state. A happy lizard is always a healthy lizard, and you should strive to keep it that way.
Also, bearded dragons may turn black when frightened or feeling unsafe, which is often the result of several things. The most impactful one is the improper habitat setting, lacking a hiding area and forcing the lizard to remain in the open at all times.
Another one is handling and petting the lizard by force or in an aggressive manner, stressing the animal needlessly.
You can easily prevent and fix these issues by understanding your beardie’s needs and respecting its intimacy and desires.
7. Getting Old
If your old lizard is slowly turning black with time, it means that the beardie is getting, well, old. The blackening is typically a sign of old age, as is the coloring fading away gradually. It’s important to get it right, though.
If your lizard is getting black over long periods of time but exhibits no other worrying signs, you know it’s part of the natural aging process.
Just keep in mind that not all bearded dragons turn black with age, and not all of them will exhibit the same color intensity. Other dragons simply retain their colors over time, except they get duller over the years.
Unfortunately, there’s nothing you can do if your lizard’s color change is due to old age. It’s just a natural part of the aging process.
Bearded dragons can change color at times, depending on the situation and their current physical and mental state. Some instances are benign, while others demand close inspection to figure out the reason behind the change.
Whatever the situation may be, keep in mind that bearded dragons don’t change their color on a whim.
There’s always something triggering the change, whether it’s harmless or harmful. So, don’t just let it slide.