Understanding your bearded dragon’s behaviour makes for a good pet owner. One thing many people often wonder about is licking.
This can seem a strange behaviour to us as humans but what does it mean for bearded dragons? You might be wondering if this is a sign that something’s wrong.
So if you’ve ever asked yourself “why does my bearded dragon lick me?” you’ve come to the right place! The short answer is that when your bearded dragon is licking you, he is learning about his environment and you. He might be smelling you or smelling something he likes on your skin. It might even be that he feels comfort with you and wants to acquire your scent.
If you’d like to know more about why bearded dragons lick their owners, read on.
Why does my bearded dragon lick me – reasons why
Firstly, there is no need to worry about bearded dragons licking. Even though a bearded dragon doesn’t have as long a tongue as his other reptile friends like chameleons, his tongue is a great way of gathering sensory data, just like many others in the reptile and animal world.
Let’s look at some specific reasons why you’ll see bearded geckos licking.
Smell and taste
Why does my bearded dragon lick me, for smell and taste? Just like other reptiles, your bearded dragon gathers molecules of air on his tongue so that he can “smell” things. And, like humans, they use their tongues to taste their food.
With food tasting, bearded dragons use licking to understand whether something is a food and what food it is. If they haven’t seen or eaten a particular substance before, they will lick it so that they can decide whether or not it is good for them to eat.
When people get to know each other it would be completely inappropriate to lick each other – we tend to make small talk and read body language, thankfully!
Your bearded dragon, on the other hand, gets to know things by licking it so that he can smell and taste what it is.
Getting a feel for their surroundings
Why does my bearded dragon lick me, to get a feel for their surroundings? Bearded dragons are omnivores themselves but they’re also prey in the wild due to their size. There are many predators in their natural habitat so they have evolved to be wary and curious of their surroundings.
One way bearded dragons learn what’s around them is by licking things in their environment. When they do this, they collect a huge amount of sensory data, which helps them understand what things (like predators) are close by.
You will see more licking behaviour from your bearded dragon if you put him in a new terrarium or environment. It’s really normal for them to lick the air so that they can smell everything in the new place.
This helps them to understand and reduces any initial stress they have of being in a new terrarium.
Breeding season and mating
Why does my bearded dragon lick me, because of breeding? As with other reptiles, bearded dragons go through brumation. This is similar to hibernation in mammals.
During this time, your bearded dragon’s body shuts down and conserves energy for the year ahead.
They might not move, defecate, eat or drink for a few weeks. Sometimes they bury themselves underground or when in a terrarium, will take themselves to the coolest and darkest part.
For bearded dragon owners, this can be unsettling when it happens, but it’s entirely normal. Brumation isn’t seasonal so they can do it at any point in the year.
Around a month after their brumation period, bearded dragons typically have their breeding season.
During this time, they will lick much more. For male bearded dragons, licking helps them to find a mate.
So, if your bearded dragon is around a month out of brumation, this is likely to be a reason why you’re seeing them lick more.
Why does my bearded dragon lick me, for territory? You’re probably aware of territory marking from seeing dogs as they walk around.
In bearded dragons, territory marking happens with licking. This is more prevalent among males.
For pet bearded dragons, there isn’t much need to mark their territory as competition isn’t high. However, it’s still an instinctual practice and so you might see your pet licking for this reason.
Especially if you have more than one bearded dragon in the terrarium. (This isn’t really recommended, though, and especially not two males).
Why does my bearded dragon lick me, because he is hungry? If your bearded dragon is hungry, he will look for food. When bearded dragons are in their natural habitat, they need to hunt to find food.
During the hunting process, they lick the air so they can learn about what is around them.
In captivity, you might still see this “hunger licking”, especially if your meal schedule is tight, as your pet will know when his food is about to arrive.
Affection and comfort
Why does my bearded dragon lick me, because he wants affection? While we can’t prove this either way, many bearded dragon owners speculate that licking behaviour can be a sign of affection and love.
Even though there’s little proof, it’s true to say that your bearded dragon will not lick anything that he isn’t comfortable with.
So, if he licks you whenever you handle him, you can assume he recognises your scent and likes to spend time playing with you.
Is licking ever aggressive?
Why does my bearded dragon lick me, because he is aggressive? We’ve seen that licking can be linked to territory marking, eating and mating but this doesn’t mean it is aggressive.
Many new bearded dragon owners fear that when their pet licks them, he might bite but this isn’t true.
Generally speaking, bearded dragons are not aggressive and won’t bite any animals larger than them unless they perceive an extreme threat.
If you ensure you’re soft and gentle with him, you’ll likely never be on the receiving end of a bite.
If we consider bearded dragons in the wild, they would never lick anything they presumed to be a large predator. They’d be out of there in a flash!
Why do we say licking is liking smelling for bearded dragons?
In this article, we’ve referred to licking as “smelling” for bearded dragons rather than “tasting”, even though we’re talking about their tongues.
This is because when bearded dragons are licking for smells, they don’t lick an object but rather flick their tongues in the air.
This licking means they can collect tiny particles that they can interpret when their tongue returns to their mouth.
Inside your bearded dragon’s mouth at the top, there is a place with nerves that send sensory information to their brains. This part is called the vomeronasal organ or Jacobson’s organ.
When this information has been received by the brain, it is interpreted as smells, allowing your pet to understand its environment.
Bearded dragons and reptiles aren’t the only species to smell via their tongues. Mammals actually do a similar thing when breathing in via their noses.
Air entering the body this way hits the tongue at the back and can be interpreted for smells too!
Noses and tongues are connected closely so we humans don’t need to use our tongues outside of our bodies as reptiles do.
Why does my bearded dragon lick me? Hopefully, you’ll now know all of the different reasons why your bearded dragon might be licking you.
To summarise, licking is entirely normal for this animal and is just their way of gathering information about the space they’re in.
For your bearded dragon, licking is his way of understanding his world and is nothing to worry about. It’s also something that makes for fascinating observation for us as humans too!