When a bearded dragon is mad or angry, it will often display some of the following behaviors and signs:
- Darkening of their beard area, turning black or brown
- Puffing out of their beard
- Opening their mouth in a gaping display
- Hissing or grunting
- Arm waving
- Head bobbing
- Attempting to bite
- Inflating their body to appear larger
- Changing color on other parts of their body like their chest and tail
- Avoiding being handled or running away
Bearded Dragon Anatomy
To understand what an angry or agitated bearded dragon looks like, it helps to first understand a bit about their anatomy and features. Here are some key things to know:
- Beards – The spiny, scaly flap of skin under their chin that can turn darker and inflate when mad.
- Mouth – They have a large mouth with teeth they will often open wide as a threat display.
- Eyes – Their eyes sit on the top of their head and though small, can narrow to express anger.
- Body – Can puff up and inflate to appear larger when mad.
- Legs – Powerful back legs allow them to run fast and their front legs to wave in displays.
- Tail – Flattens and may darken in color when agitated.
- Throat – May change colors as part of threat displays.
One of the most common signs a bearded dragon is angry or feeling threatened is that the area under their chin will turn darker in color. Normally a light tan or yellow, this beard area will rapidly turn a dark brown or blackish shade when mad.
This is caused by pigment cells in their skin called melanophores that contain dark pigment granules. When the dragon is upset, muscles contract around these cells, causing the granules to disperse and show the darker color. It happens very quickly and is an obvious visual cue that the bearded dragon feels threatened or agitated.
Why Do They Darken Their Beards?
Bearded dragons darken their beard as a defensive measure. By making their under-chin area suddenly very dark, it helps make their head look larger and more intimidating to potential predators or rivals. Coupled with puffing up their throat pouch, inflating their body, and opening their mouth, a quickly darkened beard helps create an imposing and scary display to deter aggressors.
Puffing Out Their Beard
In addition to darkening their beard area, an angry or upset bearded dragon will also puff out the skin under their chin. Normally this throat pouch area lies flat and deflated against their neck. But they have the ability to puff it out to make their head look even bigger.
When aggravated, they will fill this throat pouch with air, making it expand like a balloon. This serves to enlarge the dark beard display and make their open mouth seem more prominent. A fully puffed out beard can make their head double in size from its normal deflated state.
How Do They Puff Out Their Beards?
Bearded dragons are able to puff out their throat pouch in an intimidating display by contracting specialized muscles around the pouch. There is a muscle that runs from their lower jaw/chin area around the neck called the subhyoideus. When this muscle contracts, it pulls the skin under the chin outward, inflating the throat pouch.
There is also a small muscle connecting the top and bottom of the pouch itself called the intermandibularis that can contract to expand the skin out sideways. Coordinating these muscles allows the dragon to quickly puff out their throat when upset or defending themselves.
Gaping Mouth Displays
In addition to darkening and puffing up their beard area, angry bearded dragons will also often gape their mouth open in a dramatic threat display. They can open their mouth incredibly wide, sometimes close to 180 degrees, which reveals their teeth, gums, and pink inside of their mouth.
This gaping display again serves to make their head seem much larger and more dangerous. When combined with their expanded, darkened beard, a wide open mouth completes the overall aggressive display these lizards use to scare away predators or rivals.
Why Open Their Mouth So Wide?
There are a few reasons why agitated bearded dragons will open their mouths so dramatically:
- Makes their head look bigger which is more intimidating
- Reveals teeth and pink gums which is threatening
- Often hiss or grunt when mouth open as added effect
- Can bite or lunge forward if pushed farther
So gaping their mouth very wide intimidates opponents and warns the bearded dragon is ready to back up the threat with an actual bite if necessary. The bigger and more dramatic the display, the more likely they can scare off an aggressor without resorting to combat.
Hissing or Grunting
An angry bearded dragon will sometimes hiss or grunt loudly when upset, often while gaping their mouth open. This sound adds to the overall aggressive display, making them seem scarier and more dangerous. The hissing noise almost sounds like a rattlesnake ready to strike.
While not all agitated dragons will hiss, many do, especially in response to a direct threat that is close by. The sound effects combine with their enlarged, darkened head and open mouth to create a frightening package designed to intimidate any nearby enemy.
How Do They Make Hissing Noises?
Bearded dragons can hiss thanks to a specially adapted set of vocal cords and larynx in their throat. Air rushing past these vibrating tissues creates the snarling hiss noise. Contracting muscles around their larynx and glottis allows them to distort the sound into an intense, loud hiss.
So while they don’t have true vocal cords like mammals, they have evolved anatomy that allows them to forcibly expel air past tissue that creates threatening hisses and grunts as part of their defensive repertoire against threats.
Another behavior bearded dragons exhibit when upset or aggressive is dramatic arm waving. They will stand up on all four legs and wave one front leg in circles rapidly, similar to windmills.
This functions as a type of visual signal towards another dragon that the waving dragon is ready and willing to fight if provoked. It lets the other dragon know they are prepared for combat and will not back down from a confrontation.
Why Do They Wave Their Arms?
Arm waving is thought to serve a few purposes when a bearded dragon feels threatened or angry:
- Lets others know they are ready to fight
- Makes them appear larger by spreading out their body
- May represent a ritualized combat dance
- Distracts the opponent before attack
So the waving shows the dragon’s readiness for battle while also buying them some time to watch for the right moment to lunge forward and strike if needed.
Head bobbing is another behavior agitated bearded dragons display. Unlike the slow, rhythmic head bob they do when calm, angry head bobbing is very rapid and almost spasmodic.
They will bob their head up and down quickly while staring down an opponent, sometimes also puffing their beard out. This functions as an aggressive signal, warning the other animal they are willing to fight.
Why the Aggressive Head Bobs?
The fast head bobbing of an angry bearded dragon likely evolved for a couple reasons:
- Makes their head movements more conspicuous
- Tracks potential threats closely
- May assess opponent for weaknesses
- Keeps their vision sharpened on the adversary
This lets them follow an enemy closely while conveying their combat-readiness through rapid head oscillations. Their head bobs combined with beard displays tell the opponent they mean business.
One of the clearest signs a bearded dragon is angry and feeling aggressive is when they bite. This is often preceded by gaping mouth displays and hissing first as a warning.
But if they feel provoked enough, an agitated dragon will lunge forward and bite an intruding hand, animal, or target very hard. Their strong jaws deliver a serious nip that can easily break skin.
Why Bite When Mad?
Bearded dragons will bite for a few key reasons when upset:
- To defend themselves
- To establish dominance
- As a territorial display
- To scare away a threat
Their sharp teeth and powerful bite enable them to inflict damage on opponents. This teaches enemies to avoid the dragon and leaves a lasting reminder of their aggression if provoked.
Inflating Their Body
Another way angry bearded dragons try to look more intimidating and threatening is by inflating their torso. Normally their body is relatively slim and streamlined at rest.
But when agitated, they will often take a deep breath and puff up their chest and abdomen area. This makes their whole body appear much larger and more formidable to scare away potential adversaries.
How Can They Puff Up Their Body?
Bearded dragons are able to rapidly inflate their bodies thanks to specialized muscles and adaptions:
- Powerful intercostal chest muscles expand their ribs
- Abdominal muscles pull air into the lungs
- Air spreads throughout body upon exhalation
- Lipids in the skin allow it to stretch when inflated
So filling their lungs lets air diffuse throughout their tissue so they can blow up just like a balloon. This bluffing tactic makes them seem much more challenging to attack when combined with other threat displays.
In addition to darkening their beard, angry bearded dragons may also change colors in other parts of their body like their chest, tail, and throat.
Normally their body is relatively light, often with some darker mottled patterns. But when upset, the skin on their chest behind their beard will often turn very dark, along with their tail.
This helps contribute to an overall more threatening appearance to scare away potential threats and signal how aggressive they feel.
What Causes Their Color Change?
Special pigment cells in a bearded dragon’s skin enable them to rapidly change colors when feeling angry and defensive. These specialized cells are called chromatophores and they contain pockets of color pigments.
When the dragon feels upset or threatened, muscles contract around the chromatophores, dispersing the darker pigments and making the skin change to darker hues in seconds. This process is controlled by the nervous system automatically in response to emotions.
Trying to Escape or Avoid
Sometimes an angry or threatened bearded dragon will try to run away and avoid a confrontation when upset rather than puffing up and making a dramatic display.
This often happens if they are scared by a larger predator or a human trying to handle them in a way they don’t like. The dragon will rapidly run away, flatten their body to the ground, or even jump from your hands to get away.
Why Run Away When Mad?
Bearded dragons will usually try to escape threats rather than fight them under certain conditions:
- If the threat is much larger or seems too dangerous
- If they are startled or approached too quickly
- To find safety in their home territory
- To avoid unnecessary injury or energy use
So retreating allows them to reach the safety of their enclosure where they are comfortable. This avoids dangerous encounters the bearded dragon isn’t likely to win.
In summary, the main signs a bearded dragon is feeling angry, threatened, or aggressive include:
- Darkening of their beard area
- Puffing out and inflating their throat pouch
- Gaping their mouth open very wide
- Hissing or grunting
- Arm waving and fast head bobbing
- Attempting to bite
- Inflating their body
- Changing colors on their chest or tail
- Trying to run away or avoid a threat
Watching for these behaviors and signals allows you to recognize when a bearded dragon is upset or feeling defensive. It is best not to provoke them further and give them space in these situations.
Understanding what an angry bearded dragon looks like and why they display those behaviors gives insight into their body language and psychology so you can better interpret their moods.
|Appears more threatening
|Adds sound effects
|Shows readiness to fight
|Tracks threats closely
|Darkens threatening colors
|Avoids unnecessary harm