Added April 2004

An introduction to


The Bearded Dragons of Australia


The genus Pogona is found entirely in Australia. The species contained in this genus were all formerly members of the genus Amphibolurus, which after the split now contains just 3 species. Although Pogona species are collectively referred to as Bearded Dragons, the term is more usually applied (at least in the UK) to the species Pogona vitticeps, which despite the ban on the export of Australian wildlife is one of the most commonly found pet lizards outside Australia. This somewhat anomalous situation arose because of a handful of non-Australians breeding the animals in captivity, and the discovery that they do make excellent pets that are suitable for beginners. It should be pointed out here that this site does not condone the smuggling of wildlife despite the illogical nature of Australia's restrictive wildlife laws.

In practice, of the Pogona species most keepers are only likely to see the Inland Bearded Dragon, Pogona vitticeps, and to a lesser degree the Rankin or Lawson's Dragon (P. henrylawsoni) and the Bearded Dragon (P. barbata). There are a couple of inexpensive care books on Bearded Dragons, but their care is summarised briefly here for the advice of people who may not know anything about them in the hope that they will be interested and caring enough to purchase a book if they wish to keep a Bearded Dragon or two. These lizards are from a hot, dry climate and should be kept as such, with the warm end of the tank reaching up to 100deg F. The tank itself should be on the generous size: about 4ft long should be adequate for an adult pair. Males are more tolerant of one another than in many lizard species, but nevertheless a hierarchy will probably be established where the dominant male always gets the basking spot and breeding rights. Beardeds also like to bask, and ultraviolet light is essential. They are somewhat omnivorous, so in addition to the usual insect fare, chopped fruit and veg can be given every third or fourth meal or so. Beardeds are one of the few lizard species that are content to sit for a while on their owner, although if outside the tank they should not be allowed to get cold.

In the wild, Pogona species are terrestrial and semi-arboreal and occupy a wide range of habitats, although most of them seem to prefer drier areas from sclerophyll forest to desert. Certainly they do not tolerate high humidity well. They can often be seen basking on posts or fences by the roadside. One aspect of their behaviour that fascinates many people is the "arm waving" gestures made by some individuals, whereby an individual Pogona will wave one of its forearms at another. This is usually a gesture of appeasement by a submissive female or male to a dominant male: the gesture is also known in some other lizard species, including among lacertids.

In the past decade a huge surge of breeding among Pogona vitticeps keepers has resulted in these becoming among the cheaper lizards. The fact that they are inexpensive when compared to some other species, however, should not mean that they are regarded as expendable, nor should their necessary equipment be skimped on. As with most cold-blooded species (and often some birds and mammals too), the equipment to care for the animal will usually cost more than the animal itself.

Unless you are a dedicated breeder or are interested in attempting to produce colour "phases" of Pogona vitticeps, I would urge you to consider whether you really should breed your animals. Normally I am in favour of captive breeding, but it is worth pointing out that Pogona can be prolific and that you may end up with a lot of babies for whom it is hard to find homes (pet shops will only take so many). I have heard of ninety or so young being produced in a year, which if every person bred such numbers would be unsustainable on the market and also quite heavy on the pocket. One option of course is simply not to incubate any eggs, should they appear, but it should also be borne in mind that constant reproduction is tiring on most female animals, beardeds included. Think about how you wish to proceed, preferably before you acquire your animals. Unless beardeds become scarce on the market (not something foreseeable at the moment), there is little financial or ethical motivation to produce a lot more young, and professional breeders are more likely to keep the turnover going. See deVosjoli and Mailloux for details of reproduction for the "big three" species.

P. barbata, Bearded Dragon P. henrylawsoni, Lawson's/Rankin's Dragon P. microlepidota, Kimberly Bearded Dragon
P. minima, Western Bearded Dragon P. minor, Dwarf Bearded Dragon P. mitchelli, Northwest Bearded Dragon
P. nullarbor, Nullarbor Bearded Dragon P. vitticeps, Inland Bearded Dragon  

Species Name Common Name Distribution Size Notes
P. barbata  Bearded Dragon  E & SE Australia (not Queensland or Tasmania)  40cm SVL  Semi-arboreal species often seen perching by the roadside. It is omnivorous, living on insects and flowers and soft herbage. This species has the characteristic "beard" which is often black or brown. Scalation: dorsally small, low keeled imbricate scales with a scattering of larger keeled scales. There are large spiny scales above the ear, on the occiput and behind the angle of the mouth. 10-30 preanal and femoral pores. Coloration: variable, from pale grey to varying shades of red/brown to almost black. There are usually 2 longitudinal dorsal rows of wide pale oblongs and a dark postocular stripe. Adults are often fairly uniform in colour with indistinct markings. Tail is often banded. Lining of mouth is bright yellow and shown when the lizard "displays" in a threat gesture. Ventrally whitish. Can be distinguished from some other species by lack of conspicuous white bands on back or tail.
P. henrylawsoni  Rankin's Dragon/ Lawson's Dragon  C Queensland, sometimes NT  12"/ 30cm This species is listed in the appendix in Cogger and its exact naming has been subject to some discussion and controversy. Cogger notes that it is similar to P. minor but differs from all other Pogona species by having 18 or less lamellae under the 4th digit and 12 or less preanal and femoral pores. It is found in the US pet trade at least, although deVosjoli and Mailloux have expressed concerns about the genetic diversity available and the long-term viability of the species in captivity unless fresh blood becomes available. It lacks the "beard" of the other species and is rather smaller. In the wild it is found on the black soil plains. 
P. microlepidota Kimberly Bearded Dragon/Small-Scaled Bearded Dragon  N WA (Drysdale River region)  14cm SVL  Similar to P. barbata but smaller and lacks the spiny scales at the back of the "beard". It is found in open woodland with spinifex and other ground cover.  Its range is the smallest in the genus.
P. minima Western Bearded Dragon WA (coast and interior)  16cm SVL  Considered by some to be a subspecies of P. minor but differs from the latter in having nuchal row of spines on each side of the head parallel to the vertebral column. It occupies various habitats including coastal dunes.
P. minor Dwarf Bearded Dragon  C WA (coast and interior), W SA and SW NT  16cm SVL  Similar to P. barbata but smaller and lacks spiny gular scales. Also differs from P. minima in lacking the nuchal spines parallel to the vertebral column, and from P. microlepidota in having occiptal row of spines on each side meeting a temporal row of spines. It is semi-arboreal, occupying various habitats. 
P. mitchelli Northwest Bearded Dragon  N WA inc. coast, SW NT    Considered by some to be a subspecies of P. minor but differs from the latter in having contiguous stout conical spines in the spine rows of the head (in P. minor these are smaller and rarely contiguous). Occupies various habitats.
P. nullarbor Nullarbor Bearded Dragon  SE WA and SW SA (Nullarbor Plain)  13cm SVL  Similar to P. barbata but distinguished by narrow white bands across the back and tail. It is semi-arboreal and found in various habitats including coastal dunes. 
P. vitticeps Inland Bearded Dragon Queensland, SE NT, NSW, Victoria, E SA  20cm SVL  This is the most commonly seen species in the pet trade. It is similar to P. barbata but is more robust and has a single row of spines along each side which continue over the firearm: in P. barbata, this row broadens and then stops behind the axilla. See also comment in EMBL database entry. P. vitticeps is semi-arboreal and found in a wide range of habitats. Insects form much of its diet.


Deals not only with Pogona vitticeps but also with P. henrylawsoni and P. barbata, as well as covering some of the new colour phases and morphs. Recommended.

TFH have also produced a book covering Bearded Dragons, but not having read it I am unable to comment on it.

Bearded Dragons have also been covered in numerous herpetological magazine articles over the past few years.


Pogona Identification Key taken from Cogger

Spike Bearded Dragon & Friends - images, video and information about Bearded Dragons