I found this article on the internet and found it to be one of the most informative essays on brumation that I have read. I liked it because it covers why they brumate even though they are captive bred, it also explains why they may brumate in summer or fall in a northern continent, and it also had excellant information about taking care of the health of bearded dragons while in brumation which I have included in three more posts to follow where I talk about Parasites, Hydration and normal behaviour to expect after brunation.
BRUMATION IN BEARDED DRAGONS
Understanding the Mystery...For those who are not experienced in the hobby, and who keep Bearded Dragons as pets, one of the greatest sources of worry is when, for one reason or another, our beardies refuse to eat for long periods of time, or become increasingly inactive and lethargic.
When this happens with no warning, as it frequently does, all sorts of terrible things run through our minds, especially when this behavior goes on for more than just a few days. Do they have an impaction? Do they have some sort of an illness that isn’t readily apparent? Do they have parasites? Are they under some sort of stress? Do they need to see a vet? Is it my fault that they’re not eating? What am I doing wrong????
While all of the above, along with inadequate temperatures, and improper UVB lighting, may be causes of their lack of appetite and lethargy, what if none of the above apply? What else is left?
The answer, in many cases, is a behavior that is perfectly natural to a Bearded Dragon, but which many inexperienced owners know little to nothing about. The purpose of this article, therefore, is to shed some light on the periods of time in a Bearded Dragon’s life when they become dormant and almost completely inactive, not taking in any nourishment, and ignoring their world as time passes by.
The proper term, for these periods of time in a Bearded Dragon’s life, is “Brumation”, and it is essentially the reptile equivalent of hibernation in mammals, with a few important differences. So let’s explore this behavior a little, and see if we can’t explain away some of the mystery, and take away the fears surrounding it.
REASONS FOR BRUMATIONJust as with mammals, when in the wild there are certain times of the year when temperatures drop, and food becomes difficult to find for Bearded Dragons. The many insects that they use as a source of protein die off, and most vegetation that they consume goes dormant during the winter months, and so will not provide them with the much needed nourishment that they need.
Also, most Bearded Dragons will not drink from standing water, as they don’t recognize it as something that they CAN drink. Instead, most Bearded Dragons will take in water by lapping morning and evening dew from leaves and plants in their environment, in order to keep themselves hydrated. Once colder weather arrives, the morning and evening dew is replaced with frost, which is a poor source of hydration for them.
When faced with these problems to overcome, Beardies will burrow under things, or bury themselves in the soil, in order to keep from freezing, and their bodies will draw in moisture from the soil, through their vent, during their winter sleep, to ensure that they remain adequately hydrated enough to survive until Spring.
Also, a Bearded Dragon’s body depends on warmth from the sun in order to digest their food, and break it down into the nutrients that their bodies need, so when temperatures drop, Beardies, in the wild, would not be able to digest their food, even if they did find a food source to sustain them. Therefore, when the hours of daylight get shorter, the sun doesn’t shine as brightly, and the temperatures become colder, they brumate, in order to survive.
In order to ensure their survival, Bearded Dragons have evolved with the ability to voluntarily slow their metabolism down to nearly a standstill, which will enable them to eat and drink nothing for long periods of time, without losing more than a few grams of weight, and while maintaining their overall health. This has become instinctual to them, over time, and so many Bearded Dragons do brumate, even while in captivity, even though we provide them with warm temperatures and and a steady source of food.
You may be thinking that, since we now provide them with everything that their bodies need, year round, why do they still brumate? Over hundreds of years of evolution, their bodies have adapted to the harsh conditions in the wild that they live in. We can’t expect that the way that their bodily functions work are going to change in the mere 20+ years during which we’ve brought them into our lives and homes, and domesticated them. To expect that their bodies and instincts are going to change in that short space of time, just because their lives have become easier for them, because of our providing for their needs, would just be an exaggerated sense of self importance on our part.
As far as how Beardies in captivity brumate, every Beardie is different. Its very rare for a Beardie that is under a year old to brumate, unless they were born extremely early in the year and are rapidly approaching a year old when cold weather sets in, however it is possible.
Once they become adults, however, many of them do brumate, not because they need to, but simply because its become an instinctual behavior that has been bred into them to ensure their survival. Some Beardies will never brumate, during their entire lives, while others will brumate every year, regardless of the weather conditions outside, and no matter how hard you try to keep them from it.
One of the mistakes that many of us make concerning brumation, is that we tend to compare them to mammals, who only hibernate during the winter months, when its cold, food is scarce, and they have nothing to eat. However, Bearded Dragons, as reptiles, are an entirely different species, and they will many times brumate for reasons other than lack of food, or cold temperatures. Most who do brumate will do so during our winter months, but some may also go down during other times of the year, as well.
The fact that some Bearded Dragons will brumate here, in the Western Hemisphere, while in captivity, at the “wrong time of the year” tends to upset most owners, who believe that since it isn’t wintertime, they can’t be brumating, when, in fact, nothing could be further from the truth. The reality of the matter is that there is no “wrong time of the year” for a Bearded Dragon to go into brumation.
To understand the reasoning behind this reality, we need to remember that Bearded Dragons are native to Australia, which is in the Southern Hemisphere, on the other side of the world. Because of its location, Australia’s seasons are a direct opposite of our own.....when it’s Spring and Summer here, it’s Autumn and Winter in Australia. Therefore, some Beardies who have very strong natural instincts for survival, may actually choose to go into brumation during our Spring or Summer, because their “biological clock” is telling them that it’s the right time for them to do that in order to ensure their survival, and it would be......if they were still living in the wilds of Australia!
We’ve domesticated them completely, on this side of the world, over the last 20 years or so, and they obviously have no need to brumate at all, since we see to all their needs, providing them with a steady food supply, and constant temperatures all year round. However they still brumate, and probably will continue to do so for as long as the species exists, since their bodies have evolved that way for hundreds of years in order to ensure their survival. We can’t presume to improve upon what Mother Nature has created, and so their brumation habits will continue, in most cases, regardless of where they live, what time of the year it is, or what their living conditions are.
Another, lesser known reason for brumation, is to allow their bodies to have a “rest period”, so to speak, prior to mating season in the Spring. Many of you may have noticed that when your Beardies awake from brumation, especially the males, you see a lot of head bobbing, displaying, and blackened beards for a few weeks. The reason for this, is that allowing their bodies to rest while they brumate will cause their hormone levels to rise to higher levels than normal. This, in turn, will produce a higher sperm count in the males, which will result in a greater number of successful matings in the Spring. The higher hormone levels apply to the females of the species as well, although we usually see no outward signs of it, other than perhaps they’re being a bit more restless than usual.
So you see, there are quite a few reasons why Bearded Dragons choose to brumate, which are all to their advantage, healthwise, regardless of when they choose to do it. We can’t change it, so we just have to learn to live with it, regardless of their timing. Its just another one of the oddities that make keeping these little creatures so interesting and different to us than any other sort of pet, which, I think, is a large part of their charm.
Also, on a lighter note, it gives them another way to drive us crazy and make us worry, so that they can keep us in line and make us never want to be without them. After all, they say that “absence makes the heart grow fonder”, so they probably all brumate with smiles on their little faces when we can’t see, dreaming about all the havoc they’re causing with our emotions, and thinking about the fuss that all of their owners will make over them when they decide to wake up. The little stinkers are way too smart for their own good!
SIGNS OF BRUMATIONGenerally, the signs of brumation are very easy to recognize, once you know what you’re looking for. Most Bearded Dragons will get a bit cranky just prior to going down for their long sleep, and many may not want you to handle them as you usually do. Most don’t get nasty about it, but they make it known that they really don’t want to be bothered, and would rather be left alone.
They will get increasingly inactive and lethargic, and will refuse to bask under their lights, even when you place them on their basking spot. In fact, if you keep putting them there, you will no doubt be on the receiving end of one of their famous beardie glares and an extremely black beard!
As a general rule, you will usually find them sleeping, even during the daylight hours, on the cooler side of their enclosures or tanks, preferably as far away from their lights as they can get. If there is anything that they can burrow under, or that will provide shading from the lights, that will usually be where they choose to sleep, and when they are sleeping, you may find it extremely difficult, or even impossible to wake them.
Some will simply eat less and less as days pass, while others may just abruptly stop eating altogether, with no warning at all. Any attempts to coax them into eating will be met with stubborn refusal, no matter what tasty items you might offer, and attempting to force feed them will result in their refusing to open their mouths, no matter what you do.
If you think that your Bearded Dragon may be attempting to brumate, and they are being extremely stubborn about refusing to eat, its best to let them be, as their going into full brumation with food in their stomachs may make them extremely ill.
Left to their own devices, Bearded Dragons will simply nap on and off, until the last meal that they’ve eaten is fully digested, and they are able to have a bowel movement. This will empty their stomachs before they go into a deep sleep, since going into full brumation with food left in their digestive tracts may cause the food to rot inside them while they sleep, which can cause an extremely serious infection.
Where food during brumation is concerned, its best to let your Beardie make his own decision, as he is the best judge of whether he should eat or not. Forcing food on them may make you, as an owner, feel better, but it definitely is NOT better for your beardie, so let him make his own choices.
ACTUAL BRUMATIONOnce the time comes, and your Beardie has decided to brumate, there is little that you can do to stop him. However, there are many different degrees of brumation, and every Bearded Dragon is different, as far as how they choose to brumate.
Some Bearded Dragons will go into a deep sleep, and won’t wake up at all, for weeks on end, until its time for them to wake up and remain awake. Others will wake up periodically, either on their own, or if their owners wake them, and then go back to sleep again. Still others may just take long naps. And others may not actually go into a deep sleep at all, but will just refuse to eat anything. It all depends on each individual Beardie, and what his instincts tell him to do. It may take you a year or two to discover what is normal for your particular beardie, so you know what to expect from him.
Just as an illustration of the many possible brumation habits of each individual Bearded Dragon, I will use my own three as examples. All three are kept inside my home, in the same room, in identically sized tanks. They all have exactly the same lighting, the same tank temperatures, and even exactly the same cage furniture, arranged in the same manner. However, they all brumate differently, and at different times each year.
Charlie, my youngest male, who is nearly 4 years old, will go down, without fail, during the last part of November, and will remain asleep, except when I wake him to bathe him, until around the middle of February. When I wake him to bathe him, sometimes he will wake up, although he will be very cranky, and sometimes he will sleep right through his bath, no matter what I do. I have to watch him very closely when bathing him, to make sure that his head stays above water to prevent him from aspirating any water into his lungs, or he would drown. During this time period, Charlie will refuse to eat anything at all, and will not even accept fluids from a feeding syringe, which is why I make sure to bathe him every week to ensure that he stays well hydrated.
Eden, my only female, who is also nearing 4 years old, never brumated at all until this past winter. She began being finicky with what she would eat around the holidays last year, and finally went into brumation just after Christmas. However, when I woke her to bathe her, she would usually eat, if I offered something that she especially liked. Then she would simply nap, on and off, for a couple of days, until she had a bowel movement to empty her stomach, before going back to sleep until her next bathtime. She repeated this cycle until she finally woke up, on her own, during the last week of January, and she’s been awake ever since.
Ming, my oldest male, at 5, insists on doing his own thing. He never really goes down into a true brumation, but prefers, instead, to take extremely long naps, which sometimes last for days, on and off until Spring. He will wake up, on his own, between naps, and will wander around for a couple of days, checking things out, before going back down into a sound sleep. He also seems to enjoy some “out time” with us during the periods when he’s awake, and when I bathe him, he will usually drink his fill while in his bath. However, he refuses to eat anything at all during the time when he’s brumating, and he never drops more than a few grams of weight. At our house, we have a standing joke concerning Mingie....he won’t really go into a true brumation because he’s so nosy, and he’s afraid he’s going to miss something!
So, as you can see from the above illustration, all beardies are unique individuals, and may be completely different in the ways that they choose to brumate, even if they live in the same house, and the same environment.
Source: Denise R. Bushnell