Have you noticed a cute little pink tongue darting in and out of your bearded dragon’s mouth? Maybe you thought he was sticking his tongue out at you! Then you realize he’s doing it a lot, at varied times in differing contexts. It’s almost like he’s smacking his lips as he contemplates his surroundings, and you wonder what on earth he is thinking!
So, why is my bearded dragon smacking his lips? The most likely reason your bearded dragon is smacking their lips is because they’re either smelling their surroundings, tasting something he’s just licked, checking the area, marking territory or seeking a mate.
In this article, we will look at some of the reasons why bearded dragon’s, especially males, smack or lick their lips, how they use their Jacobsen’s organ, how to protect them from licking bad stuff, and how to figure out if the lip smacking is due to distress or aggression.
Lip Smacking for Smelling
Bearded dragons, as well as other types of reptiles, are able to collect air molecules on their tongues. That is why they pop their tongue in and out, as this enables them to smell whatever is being offered to them and whether something is edible or not.
Have you noticed that if you give your beardie something new to eat, he may do a lot of lip smacking at first as he tries to ascertain through smell if this is going to be a good snack or not.
If your beardie is used to regular meal times, he may anticipate his dinner with some lip smacking as he looks forward to smelling when food is on the way. If your pet was living in the wild he would have to hunt for food, locating his next prey through this sense of smell, probing the air with his tongue to detect any potential sources of nutrition.
Lip Smacking for Tasting
When your beardie’s tongue makes contact with the object of interest, he actually tastes it to get information on what it is and whether it would be good to eat. The tongue is also slightly sticky so it is useful to catch prey.
Bearded dragons like to lick everything that is new to them, either inside their tank, or if you take them out for a bit. It’s their way of touching and tasting to get a feel of what’s what, and to decide if there is any danger or predators lurking.
Perhaps your beardie even licks you sometimes, probably he wants to see how you taste, or maybe he likes your scent. Some pet owners believe that their bearded dragon is showing affection when he licks them or smacks his lips at them.
Lip Smacking for Checking the Area
In their native environment in the Australian desert, bearded dragons need to be constantly on the lookout for predators who might see them as a tasty little treat. That’s why beardie’s lick the air a lot, especially when they are in a new habitat or a strange environment. They are simply collecting sensory data which keeps them informed of their surroundings.
Besides staying vitally informed, beardie’s are also know to be curious and they like to learn all about the things in their area. This is particularly true in younger beardies, under the age of two or three years, who tend to lick things and smack their lips more than mature adult dragons.
In some pets, the licking doesn’t stop when they sleep – some beardie’s lick the air while sleeping and have even been known to bite while asleep.
Lip Smacking for Marking Territory
Another reason why bearded dragons, especially males, can lick and smack their lips is because they may be marking out their territory. This may not be seen so much in captivity where there is not usually any competition. But if you have more than one beardie in a terrarium, you may be able to observe this kind of behavior.
Lip Smacking for Seeking a Mate
The arrival of breeding season usually sees an increase in licking and lip smacking. About a month after your beardie has gone through brumation, it’s time to seek a mate, and that’s when you will see him licking a lot. This is used as a kind of non-threatening social signal to show availability and interest.
Licking and lip smacking is a pre-mating behavior of bearded dragons, along with puffing up their beards and waving their arms.
The Role of Jacobsen’s Organ
By now you may be wondering how your bearded dragon manages to accomplish all these marvellous things simply by flicking his little tongue in and out of his mouth! That is a good question and the answer is that this all happens thanks to a very special thing called the vomeronasal organ or Jacobsen’s organ.
This specialized organ is found in several reptiles including snakes and lizards, and of course bearded dragons.
Jacobsen’s organ is located above the roof of the mouth. As your beardie pulls his tongue back inside his mouth, he pushes it up into an opening which is connected to the organ. This is where the information from the outside environment is deciphered, and the vomeronasal organ sends a message to the brain of the bearded dragon helping it to understand what is going on around it.
The tiny particles which stick to the beardie’s tongue are collected and then picked up by the Jacobsen’s organ and analyzed. These particles can be in liquid form, such as sweat or pheromones which play a vital role during mating season, breeding and social behavior.
Due to the phenomenal ability of the Jacobsen’s organ, the bearded dragon can tell objects, animals and people apart, and generally understand everything about its environs.
Dangers of Lip Smacking
It’s all good and well for your beardie to be smacking his lips and licking everything in sight, but there are a few danger zones that you need watch out for. One of these is the substrate which you put in the enclosure. It is not good for your bearded dragon to lick or ingest sand, chips, bark or any other kind of loose substrate.
If you have babies or juveniles, they tend to be particularly curious and prone to ingesting substrate or small objects. So it’s important to be vigilant and remove any dangerous objects which may negatively impact the health and wellbeing of your beardie.
This is also true if you take you beardie out and let him explore a bit. First make sure that there are no loose particles which he may find irresistible.
Negative Variations of Lip Smacking
Sometimes your bearded dragon may not be “doing its usual thing” when it is licking or lip smacking. Maybe you notice that its tongue is sticking out but it’s not actually licking in the same way as before. It may even be panting slightly.
This may be a sign that it is feeling too hot. Check the temperature in the basking spot and make sure it is not more than 110°F (43°C). Your beardie may also be thirsty. Try using a dropper or dispenser to place a few drops of water on its snout.
Having a very acute sense of smell, as described above, can have a downside for your beardie. For instance, if he has pooped in his tank it’s bound to be pretty unpleasant and unbearable. Some beardie’s even scratch on the glass as if they are trying to get away from the smell.
On the other hand, some bearded dragons will hold in their poop and only go when you put them in the bath or take them out of their enclosure. So keep a close watch and be sure to clean up promptly whenever your beardie poops (for your sake and theirs!)
If you see your bearded dragon’s mouth open, with its beard puffed up and possibly making a few sounds, this could well be a sign of aggression or distress. This could happen if there are strangers around, or other animals or new pets. Try to figure out what is making your beardie stressed and do whatever you can to restore a peaceful environment where your pet feels safe again.
Next time you see your beardie smacking his lips, don’t worry! It’s just his way of getting acquainted with his surroundings, checking out the tastes and smells of his environment, or possibly seeing if he can find a mate during breeding season.
Just make sure there is nothing untoward that might be harmful for your bearded dragon to lick, such as loose substrate.If you perceive a different kind of lip smacking, check that your pet is not distressed or upset in some way.
Otherwise, sit back and enjoy watching your cute little beardie wiggle his tongue in and out as he smacks his lips whenever, wherever and however he feels like doing it.