Once a year your bearded dragon will stop eating and stay in his/her hide for long periods of time. This is similar to mammalian hibernation, starts roughly after the first year of age, and is perfectly normal. In fact, for many bearded dragons, brumation is an essential part of their health. Skipping brumation can actually be very harmful. Current knowledge is that it tends to shorten their lifespan and bearded dragons that don’t brumate generally don’t thrive as well as those that do. The finer physiological implications of skipping brumation are still being studied, but current evidence suggests that allowing and encouraging brumation in captive bearded dragons is an essential part of good care.
In their natural habitat, brumation starts when temperatures start to cool down and food becomes scarce. It occurs in the months between May-September (remember that in Australia, these months are Fall-Winter). During this time they will seek refuge underground, in fallen logs, tree stumps, or anywhere else that seems suitable for a long sleep.
When left to their own devices in captivity, bearded dragons won’t all start brumation at the same time, but it typically occurs as the days get shorter and temps start to cool down — usually during mid-late autumn, lasting 1-4 months. Signs of brumation are:
- Appetite loss without weight loss
- Staying on the “cool” side of the terrarium
- Hanging out inside their hide more than usual
- Sleeping constantly/more than usual
- Crankiness/reduced tolerance for handling
If your bearded dragon does not normally brumate or you would like to keep them on a schedule, do the following to induce brumation in your bearded dragon. This is also a good procedure to follow if your bearded dragon has already started brumating on their own:
2 weeks before brumation is scheduled to begin, stop feeding your beardie. Also reduce the amount of time that lights and heat sources are on each day, with 6 hours of light (“day”) and 18 hours of darkness (“night”).
1 week before brumation is scheduled to begin, turn off the beardie’s heat lamp and any other heat sources, and maintain the same daily schedule for the UVB. It is also a good idea to give your pet a good warm soak to clear out their digestive tract.
When brumation is scheduled to begin, all lights and heat sources should be turned off.
Don’t worry about your beardie getting too cold — they can go down to 55°F/12°C just fine. In fact, in the wild, they tolerate temperatures as low as 40°F/5°C during the winter! If you can lower the temperatures in the room of their enclosure, that can be extra beneficial.
Brumation should last a minimum of 2 months, but no more than 4. So if you’re in the Northern hemisphere, an appropriate time to start brumation would be December 1, ending on February 1. If you’re in the Southern hemisphere, and appropriate time to start brumation would be June 1, ending on August 1.
During brumation, no maintenance is required. However, it is a good idea to weigh your bearded dragon with a kitchen scale (I use the Ozeri Pronto) weekly to monitor their weight.
If they lose more than 10% of their initial weight, your dragon is ill and may not survive brumation if it is allowed to continue! Stop brumation and take your beardie to the vet for an examination immediately.
To prevent your bearded dragon from accidentally waking up early, do not allow the room that the enclosure is in to get warmer than 72°F/22°C.
When brumation is scheduled to end, turn the lights and heat sources back to normal settings, but they should only be on for 6 hours/day. This schedule should last for one week. Provide clean water for the bearded dragon to drink as needed, as well as some food, but don’t be surprised if they don’t have their appetite back yet.
1 week after brumation has ended, schedule the lights and heat sources back to being on for 13 hours/day. Your beardie’s appetite should go back to normal.
If appetite does not go back to normal or your beardie doesn’t seem to be waking up, take your dragon to an experienced reptile vet for examination!
After brumation, your bearded dragon will probably act a little different for a couple weeks. Females will be more energetic, but males can drive you crazy. Since brumation raises their natural hormone levels, expect your male to head bob his head off, with the blackest beard you’ve ever seen! He will also probably try to mate with anything and everything that attracts his fancy. Providing an easily-washable stuffed animal or sock can offer some relief for him during this time.