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Bearded Dragons – Why One Is Enough
In 2006, we purchased two bearded dragons. We had done extensive research on their care and requirements for the vivarium and equipment, but had lacked information on whether bearded dragons should be kept alone or in pairs or groups. Most of the books we have referenced have been written by breeders who have talked about their facilities with a number of barbs. So we went there a bit blind, with little knowledge and made the decision to buy a pair.
Knowing that we wanted a male and a female, the breeder we contacted had two clutches of eggs from two separate pairs of breaded dragons hatched around the same time. He precisely selected one from each group who would hopefully turn out to be male and female (although he pointed out that he had done his best to sex them, but could be wrong – a warning you should expect from any experienced breeder). The two young newborns were brought together in a separate vivarium, so they had been together since they were less than a week old.
The bearded dragons, named Shrek and Fiona, came to us at 5 weeks old and were immediately placed in a 5ft vivarium where they seemed very happy. They interacted well, even if they seemed to treat each other like furniture at times – one lying on top of the other with apparent disregard as to whether they were sitting on each other’s heads! Even though I had prepared my son that if they turned out to be two men they would have to be separated, as they matured Fiona started waving her arms and Shrek started nodding. They were definitely male and female.
We kept reading about bearded dragons, and that’s when we found information about the dangers of keeping a male and female together. Mating was not so much a possibility as a certainty! And the warnings were there that they could mate too soon, causing egg-laying problems for the females, and that the male, once started, would continually mate with the female, giving her a misery.
Well, sure, they mated, but not until they were over a year old and both adults. So we considered ourselves very lucky. Seeing the eggs being laid, watching them in the incubator and waiting for the hatchlings to come out was something that gave us great pleasure. We had two broods from this first mating – 37 babies were born in all, and in 2008 the market was not yet flooded with too many barbs, so we managed to sell them all to good homes and make some enough to cover the cost of feeding newborns. and buy the facilities for them. I was then worried about what would happen next, but Shrek and Fiona settled down and the next mating didn’t happen for 18 months. Again, I checked this off as another hit. While advising others not to have two Bearded Dragons, I smugly thought it worked for us – probably because they had only been together a few days.
When the eggs hatched this time and the hatchlings grew, it was much harder to sell the babies – the price had dropped through the floor, and although we made enough to cover the food, and we would have made a considerable loss if we had not already had the equipment to raise them. We ended up keeping the last of the newborns until they were 4 months old just because it was so hard to find new homes for them.
After that, Shrek and Fiona didn’t breed again, and I wondered why since there were so many warnings about overbreeding. I began to observe their behavior carefully. I noticed that Shrek was indeed starting to shake his head and indicate he was feeling rather frisky, but Fiona – although much smaller (Shrek was a 700g giant!) she clearly expressed her displeasure. They would spin around each other, then Fiona would rush at him, knocking him back. She would then take refuge somewhere where mating was impossible – on the hammock, draped over a rock or a branch. Shrek would give up and go sulk. They would then become sociable themselves again. Fiona was obviously the boss.
At the end of 2011, Shrek developed tumors and died in the spring of 2012. Having had the same companion all her life, we worried about how Fiona would behave, and even worried that she was wasting away. Although Shrek was put down by the vet, we left him to die in the vivarium with Fiona – the anesthesia they use doesn’t work instantly on reptiles. The vet agreed that bringing him home to die was the best thing to do, as most animals react better when they realize their mate is dead, however, than just disappearing. But since there isn’t much research on bearded dragon behavior, he couldn’t comment on what the lasting effect on Fiona would be.
So what happened? Well, Fiona didn’t mope. She didn’t stop eating. She began to look the most beautiful she had ever looked in her entire life with beautiful colors. She became more active in the vivarium, more active when running around the house. Curious, and even if it’s hard to say, she seemed happy. She was much more relaxed.
I can only conclude that during the years they were together, she had tolerated Shrek’s presence, but is actually happier alone without him. It took us by surprise!
In the wild, bearded dragons live alone – a male and female will only come together to mate. Although we tend to humanize our pets and believe that, like us, they will be unhappy if they live a solitary life in their vivariums, it would seem from our experience that they prefer to live as they would in their natural habitat. Only.
On the forum and website I have advised people never to buy a pair of bearded dragons because the chances of getting two males (which cannot be kept together), or a male and a female of the same brood, which would result in reproduction by siblings is too large. Coupled with this, even women cannot be guaranteed not to fight. Since it’s nearly impossible to mate with a bearded dragon into adulthood – and even then, even the professionals can be wrong – you really don’t know what you’re getting if you buy bearded dragons together.
But now I think it’s a mistake to keep two, because in our experience one is obviously happier on its own. The problem is, we tend to think of animals as having the same emotions as us, but bearded dragons aren’t small humans – or even like some other pets.
Not much research has been done on the behavior of bearded dragons, and scientists and reptiles alike are learning more and more every day. The longer they live in captivity, the more we learn about them, and the more we keep them as close to nature as possible. If you are considering getting a bearded dragon, please don’t buy more than one – other than that there’s a good chance you’ll end up separating them, which means either having space and money for another large vivarium, or having to part ways with what has become a member of your family.
It’s sad to think that Fiona may have been trying to tell us something for years, and we just weren’t listening. We must respect the way they live in nature and not impose a companion on them
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