Many bearded dragon owners want to know what it means when their little pet reptile licks them. But as you can expect, the reason isn’t always obvious.
This guide will go over why bearded dragons lick you, and if there’s anything you should do about it.
Table of Contents
- How Licking Helps Them Gather Information
- What Does It Mean When A Bearded Dragon Licks You?
- Why Does My Bearded Dragon Lick The Air?
- Will Their Licking Behavior Change As They Age?
How Licking Helps Them Gather Information
Reptiles, such as lizards and snakes, have a very unique way of sensing the world around them. Have you ever noticed your bearded dragon flicking its tongue as if it’s tasting the air?
Well, in a way it is!
Every time your beardie sticks out its tongue, it’s collecting information in the form of microparticles. These particles are then processed by a special organ that’s located near the roof of the dragon’s mouth. This organ is called the Jacobson’s organ.
From there, the sensory messages that are collected get sent to the brain for interpretation. This is how your bearded dragon learns about its surroundings, detects predators, locates a potential mate and finds food.
What Does It Mean When A Bearded Dragon Licks You?
If you’re new to the world of pet bearded dragons, then there will be many things about them that may surprise you. For example, it’s pretty common knowledge that cats and dogs lick their owners, but it’s not so well known that many pet reptiles also have the tendency to lick people. Besides licking you, a bearded dragon will also “taste” just about everything in its environment. While this behavior may seem kind of weird, there are actually some very good reasons why your bearded dragon licks you.
Part of being a responsible bearded dragon caretaker is understanding your pet’s natural behaviors. Licking is a very common and instinctive thing for a bearded dragon to do, and it doesn’t mean that your reptile is being aggressive or showing displeasure in any way. On the contrary, licking is almost always done in a gentle and calm manner.
Let’s take a look at what it means when a bearded dragon licks you. We feel that the more you know about your bearded dragon, the more you’ll be able to enjoy and admire this beautiful and unique reptile.
1. They’re Gathering Information About Their Environment
The most likely reason behind why your bearded dragon is licking you is that it’s trying to get information about you and the world around it. Licking you and the various items that it encounters is how your bearded dragon keeps tabs on what is going on.
In the wild, a bearded dragon will constantly “taste” the air or things around it in order to find out if there are predators or other forms of danger in the area. A bearded dragon in a home environment, especially a new beardie, will lick you for much the same reason. Your pet wants to know if you are a friend or a threat, but as it gets used to you and its environment, they won’t need to do this as much.
By licking you and the items that are in the area, your beardie will be able to receive information about temperature, texture and other environmental factors. If you have a baby that is constantly licking you, then it’s probably just curious and wants to explore or try out new things.
2. Something Tastes Interesting
As we’ve discussed, your bearded dragon licks things in order to find out more about its environment. If you find that your beardie is licking you, and it happens to be around feeding time, then it may be trying to find out if you’re something tasty. Don’t forget that your bearded dragon gets its sensory information from licking things. By licking you, it is able to determine if you are a food item that it recognizes.
Expert Tip: Your bearded dragon may also be licking you because you taste like something interesting, and it wants to explore further. If you have been preparing its food, or if you have been handling something that it enjoys, then it’s more apt to continue licking you.
3. It’s Territorial Behavior
Bearded dragons can actually be quite territorial and will lick everything around them in order to mark their space. If you have only one bearded dragon, then this type of behavior may not be so pronounced, but it still may lick you in order to claim you as its own!
However, if you have another beardie in your home, then they might choose to lick everything in sight to claim their space and to warn off potential competition. Bearded dragons often exhibit signs of intense stress if they are housed together, especially when you have more than one male in an enclosure (stress marks are common). We suggest keeping them in separate tanks and ideally separate rooms to avoid conflict or stress.
Male bearded dragons will often demonstrate increased licking behavior when there is another male around, even when that male is in another tank. They will try to claim ownership of their territory, show another dragon who’s boss, or they may be attempting to keep other males from a female.
Female bearded dragons will sometimes display increased licking when there are other females around because they want to show dominance over the food supply. In a single bearded dragon home, you probably won’t notice as much territorial licking, but it’s still possible to see this behavior from time to time.
4. Mating Is On Their Mind
About one month after brumation, male bearded dragons will begin to get the urge to find a mate. This is the time of year when love is literally in the air, and your bearded dragon will flick its tongue in its search for the pheromones that indicate that there is a willing female in the vicinity.
Of course, if you only have one bearded dragon, then the whole search is futile. However, your dragon’s natural instinct is strong, and it will continue to exhibit the same mate-seeking behavior that it had in the wild.
So what does it mean when your bearded dragon is licking you? Mating season is a time of the year when your beardie can go into a licking frenzy in its search for a suitable mate. It will lick everything around it, including you, in order to get a better sense of what is going on in and around its environment. So it might just be trying to find out if you are a potential love match!
5. It’s A Sign Of Affection Or Comfort
There are some people who claim that when a bearded dragon licks you, that it’s a sign that your bearded dragon is showing you affection or is seeking comfort. While this sounds like a lovely explanation, it’s very hard to prove and is a matter of some debate in the bearded dragon community.
It does seem to be true that a bearded dragon is more likely to lick you if it trusts you and feels comfortable with you. However, this licking is not necessarily a sign of affection. It could be that it likes the way you smell or feels a sense of safety to have you around. On the other hand, it may be merely verifying that you are a friend and not a threat.
However, the more quality time you spend with your beardie, the greater will be the bond that develops between you. Maybe after a feeling of trust and safety has been established, your bearded dragon will lick you out of pure companionship and comfort!
Expert Tip: In fact, bearded dragons that are showing signs of stress will sometimes calm down after a bit of a cuddle.
While it’s pretty hard to prove that your bearded dragon is licking you from feelings of affection, it’s certainly worth it to foster and maintain a loving and trusting relationship between you and your beardie. Licking behavior that starts off as pure curiosity may develop into something stronger and more loving over time.
Why Does My Bearded Dragon Lick The Air?
While a bearded dragon will lick just about everything around it (including you) it will also lick the air. We already touched briefly on the subject of how licking the air relates to the Jacobson’s organ, but we think that it would be worth it to explore this subject in a little more detail.
When a bearded dragon licks the air, what it’s really doing is learning about the environment by collecting and analyzing chemical signals in the air. The tiny microparticles that are in the air are too small for humans to even notice, but these tiny particles are packed with information that’s important to your bearded dragon.
One reason why your bearded dragon will start licking the air is if it’s feeling hungry. It will lick the air, collect any odor particles that are floating by and then process the information to see if any of its favorite food is detected nearby. The next time that your bearded dragon’s feeding time rolls around, you may notice that it begins to lick the air. This is a good signal to you that it’s hungry and needs to be fed.
A new bearded dragon, or one that’s been placed in a new enclosure, will lick the air because it is stressed out and wants to find out if it is in any danger. It’s also trying to gather as much information as possible about its new surroundings and about the people and other animals in your house. Once your bearded dragon feels a little more relaxed, you will probably notice that this frantic licking tapers off somewhat.
A bearded dragon will also lick the air to find if there is an available mate in the area, or it may be searching the air for the scent of a predator.
Expert Tip: One important thing to know is that there is a difference between your bearded dragon licking the air and open-mouthed gasping. Licking is normal behavior, but if your little friend is gasping with its mouth open, this could be a sign that it’s overheating (here’s a guide to help you figure out why they have their mouth open).
Make sure that your pet has plenty of water and that the temperature gradient in the enclosure is at an appropriate level for bearded dragons.
Will Their Licking Behavior Change As They Age?
In general, it’s usually the baby and juvenile bearded dragons that tend to demonstrate the most consistent licking behavior. Baby beardies, like many other young animals, are very curious and want to learn as much as they can about their surroundings. This is done by licking everything in sight, including you.
If you’ve recently brought your baby bearded dragon home from the store, then it’s going to spend a lot of time getting to know its new habitat. Once your baby gets used to things, this tendency to constantly lick everything should slow down.
Because the instinct to lick everything is so strong, especially with baby bearded dragons, it is going to be very important to make sure that all tank enhancements are ones that are made for bearded dragons. Since tasting will include the substrate that’s in the tank, using sand or small pieces of gravel is not recommended. This is especially important for baby and juvenile beardies that may accidentally pick up pieces of substrate and choke.
Now that you know what it means when a bearded dragon licks you, it will be easier to determine the exact cause in the moment. Most of the time it’s nothing to worry about (and it might even be a good thing). But every once in a while it means you’ll need to take action.
If you have any questions about the information covered in this guide, feel free to get in touch!