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Reasons Why Bearded Dragon Beards Turn Black 

bearded dragon

Why is my bearded dragon turning black? | Is it normal to change color?  | When to be concerned  | Reasons  

Why is my bearded dragon turning black?

Bearded dragons are great pets. They are generally calm, friendly, easy-going animals that can live up to15 years with proper care and nutrition. With their spiny bodies and folds of skin—their “beard”—under their chins, they are also uniquely beautiful. Most people don’t know it, but these lizards tend to be social and have distinct personalities.  

One unique feature of bearded dragons is their ability to suddenly change color. While beardies can display a variety of colors, there may be times you witness your bearded dragon turning black in certain areas of their body. You may even see an all-black bearded dragon for a short period.

Is this normal? Or is there something wrong? 

While bearded dragons can change color for a variety of benign reasons, they also may change color in response to stress or illness. Pet parents should be familiar with the reasons why bearded dragons change color so that they know whether they should be concerned if such a change occurs. 

Do bearded dragons normally change color? 

Yes, it can be normal for bearded dragons to change color. They are able to do this because they have cells in their skin called chromatophores that contain pigment and can reflect light differently in response to changes in their mood, demeanor or environmental temperature. 

Color changes can sometimes happen gradually as a lizard gets older and their skin grows and stretches, or they can happen suddenly if there is something that makes a beardie excited or anxious.  Bearded dragons can also change the color of their backs rapidly in response to environmental temperature fluctuations. They will lighten the color of the skin over their backs when they are hot to try to absorb less heat. Conversely, they will darken the skin on their backs when they are cold as a way to absorb more heat.

While a bearded dragon may appear black because they are reacting to their surroundings, unique colors in lizards—including black—may simply occur in some breeds because they have been bred to have specific skin colors and patterns. This is how the color mutations in the albino black bearded dragon and blue flame black bearded dragon have been achieved.

Even though color changes may be normal, pet parents should monitor and be inquisitive about their bearded dragon’s color changes. This understanding can offer important clues about how a pet feels and how comfortable they are in their environment. 

When to be concerned 

Skin color changes in bearded dragons can happen suddenly or over the course of months.  As we’ve discussed, there are some perfectly normal reasons a beardie may change their skin color to black that shouldn’t be cause for concern. However, there are some

 potentially dangerous reasons for this skin color change, including various sources of stress, exposure to inappropriate environmental conditions or severe underlying health issues.  Bearded dragons also may undergo skin color changes during brumation—a natural process similar to hibernation in which reptiles experience a period of dormancy and slower metabolism. However, brumation is not necessary for pet bearded dragons since their environmental conditions and diet should remain constant.

In some cases—such as brumation—color changes may be prolonged. If your beardie’s color changes and it is not in response to brumation or other obvious factors affecting their mood or environment, there may be cause for concern and you should have your pet checked out by a veterinarian.

Reasons a bearded dragon might turn black 

1. Thermoregulation 

The most common reason a beardie turns black is thermoregulation. 

Bearded dragons are cold-blooded, meaning they can’t regulate their own body temperature and depend on external heat to warm them up. Darker colored scales help reptiles absorb heat faster. When bearded dragons are cold, they can make their skin darker to help absorb any extra heat they can. 

It’s not uncommon for a beardie to turn black—especially in the morning or if there is a drop in ambient temperature—to try to get their body temperature up.  

If a bearded dragon turns dark often, it might be that their habitat isn’t warm enough. Ideal temperatures for a bearded dragon are 75-80°F in the cooler part of the tank and 95-100°F in the warmer part. Bearded dragons should also have a basking zone with ultraviolet (UV)B light and a temperature of 105-110°F. Nighttime temperatures should not fall below 70-75°F. If your bearded dragon is black, check the thermometers in the habitat to ensure the temperature is in the appropriate range. If it is too cold, increase the heat and see if your pet’s color returns to normal. If their skin color remains dark, consult your veterinarian for help in determining the cause.

If your bearded dragon turned black and died, it’s possible that inappropriate habitat temperature was the cause. Speak to your veterinarian about the specifics of your pet’s situation to better understand what might have happened.

2. Stress 

Lizards get stressed out for a variety of reasons, including fear, anger, anxiety, discomfort and threats to their territory. A pet beardie may be stressed out by loud noises, other pets near their enclosure, movement or cleaning of their habitat, excess handling and lights or heat being turned on and off too frequently. 

A bearded dragon’s black beard is one of the ways they can manifest the stress they are feeling. 

If stress is the cause of a beardie’s color change, their beard may not be the only body part that turns black—other body parts may turn black, too. They may also show additional signs of stress, such as rapid opening and closing of their mouths, hiding or decreased appetite. Long-term stress can suppress their immune system function, predispose them to infections and decrease their overall quality of life.  

You can help reduce stress in your bearded dragon’s habitat by providing hiding places for security and offering décor—such as rocks and branches to climb on—to help enrich their life. Hiding spots provide them with safety from perceived threats and dangers, greatly decreasing their stress level and helping them feel safer and more comfortable in their enclosure.  

A black beard on your bearded dragon could also be a sign that they feel threatened. Bearded dragons commonly turn their beards black to try to ward off rivals or perceived predators such as cats, dogs or birds. Bearded dragons might also feel threatened or stressed while being handled until they get more used to you. 

Another potential threat in the eyes of a pet bearded dragon is other bearded dragons. In nature, beardies are generally solitary and only come together to mate. Encounters with other bearded dragons may lead to intense standoffs or even fighting—and the same is true with pet bearded dragons.

To help to reduce potential stress, provide your bearded dragon with a safe, stable, quiet environment and keep other pets away from their habitat. 

3. A desire to mate 

Another cause for a black beard on a bearded dragon can be that they are trying to impress a female when looking for a mate. This might especially be the case during springtime and breeding season. 

 Sexually mature male bearded dragons use the darker beard to attract potential mates and as a threat to potential rivals. Other courtship rituals include bobbing their head up and down rapidly or generally acting more aggressively. Males can display these behaviors during breeding season even if there are no other bearded dragons around to mate with. 

These displays, including the black beard, are all part of normal breeding behavior and are not something to be concerned about. If your bearded dragon has a black beard and is acting hormonal but is otherwise eating, drinking and active as usual, there is likely no cause for alarm. 

4. Emergence from brumation 

Brumation is a less intense version of hibernation that many bearded dragons in nature undergo in response to cooler temperatures and food scarcity. Brumation is characterized by periods of lethargy and sluggishness in which the heart rate drops, the digestive system shuts down, metabolism slows and animals appear to be in a deep sleep. However, bearded dragon brumation should not occur in pet beardies because their environmental temperatures and food availability should remain constant all year-round.  

 It is sometimes difficult to know whether a bearded dragon is sick or is undergoing brumation, as some bearded dragon brumation signs resemble illnesses.  

 Some bearded dragons coming out of brumation may display darker colors to try to absorb as much heat as they can to get their body temperature and energy levels back up. 

If your beardie just woke up from brumation and has a black beard, don’t be concerned about their color change. Instead, review their habitat conditions—light, temperature, humidity, etc.—to ensure they are at optimal levels and to better understand what caused brumation to occur.  

5. Establishing dominance and acting territorial 

A bearded dragon’s beard color is used to communicate a lot of different feelings. For example, a male bearded dragon will turn their beards black when they are trying to establish dominance over other bearded dragons or when they perceive a threat to their territory.

This behavior is more common when a bearded dragon is housed with or in view of others. The change in beard color may also be accompanied by other behaviors, such as head bobbing or trying to lie on top of their rivals. 

Bearded dragons are solitary creatures and shouldn’t be housed together—other than to encourage breeding. Their dominance displays can easily lead to fighting or constant harassment of females by males intent on mating.  Sometimes even single bearded dragons can display dominance and territorial behaviors, including beard color changes. These are normal behaviors and generally not a cause for concern.

6. Illness

Of all the possible reasons a bearded dragon can develop a black beard or undergo other color changes, illness is the most concerning and potentially lethal. 

If your lizard turns black and stays black and there is no other obvious explanation for this color change, it’s possible that they’re sick. Other signs of illness include lethargy, reduced activity, decreased appetite, changes in droppings, swollen belly, discharge from the nose or eyes and difficulty breathing. If you have a female, any of these symptoms might also be a sign of problems with egg-laying. If you observe any of these signs in your pet, they should be checked out by a veterinarian familiar with reptiles as soon as possible. 

7. Inappropriate lighting 

In nature, bearded dragons spend a great deal of time basking in the sun. Sunlight not only helps keep them warm but also enables them to make vitamin D in their skin so that they can absorb calcium from their food for strong, healthy bones. In an enclosed indoor habitat, pet bearded dragons need to be exposed to UVB rays from a full-spectrum UV bulb for several hours a day to ensure they don’t become vitamin D- or calcium-deficient. A lack of UVB exposure can lead to metabolic bone disease—a condition seen commonly in indoor pet beardies that causes skeletal deformities.

If you notice bearded dragon skin turning black and staying black, it may be due to a lack of sufficient UVB exposure. You might need to change your bulb or upgrade the current lighting system for your pet if you either don’t have a UV light or it’s been more than six months since you’ve changed the bulb. Ask your veterinarian about the optimal lighting conditions for your pet, and be sure to regularly test and replace their bulbs according to the manufacturer’s recommendations. 

Where your bearded dragon is turning black and what it means 

Below are some frequently reported ways in which a bearded dragon might turn black, with possible causes and solutions where applicable. 

Bearded dragon beard black or bearded dragon dark skin

As we’ve explored in this article, a bearded dragon’s beard or body may turn black for a variety of reasons, including illness, stress, a desire to mate, thermoregulation, inappropriate lighting conditions and to assert feelings of dominance or territoriality.

Bearded dragon black tail

The most common reason for a bearded dragon’s tail to turn black is from trauma or infection—sometimes called “tail rot.” If you see this, inspect the tail to ensure that it’s still soft and flexible. If the tail appears to be cold, hard, dry, bleeding, or if your pet exhibits sensitivity when you touch it, the black section of tail may be necrotic due to a lack of blood circulation. If your beardie’s tail looks like this, take them to a veterinarian to see whether medical or surgical treatment is warranted. 

Black spots on a bearded dragon

Black spots on your bearded dragon’s skin could simply be normal pigment and part of their natural skin pattern. However, the appearance of black spots could be indicative of an illness, such as a bacterial or fungal infection—sometimes called “scale rot”—parasitic disease, cancer or even a thermal burn. This is particularly true if they are exhibiting other signs of illness, such as lethargy or lack of appetite. If these black spots suddenly appear—especially if your pet is showing other signs of illness—consult your veterinarian right away. 

In all cases, if your bearded dragon undergoes a color change and you are not sure why, consult your veterinarian. They will perform tests to determine the cause of the change and will advise you on the best course of action to help ensure the long-term health and wellbeing of your bearded dragon. 

Reviewed by Petco’s Animal Care, Education and Compliance (ACE) Team

Petco’s ACE team is a passionate group of experienced pet care experts dedicated to supporting the overall health & wellness of pets. The ACE team works to develop animal care operations and standards across the organization and promote proper animal care and education for Pet Care Center partners and pet parents, while also ensuring regulatory compliance.

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