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Bearded dragons have specific body language that will indicate their mood, feelings, and health. Now if your Bearded Dragon is digging, don’t be alarmed as it happens to be a pretty common behavior that can mean many things. However, contrary to popular belief, bearded dragons don’t mimic other bearded dragons, which means that their behavior is a sign of something genuine.
Generally, bearded dragon digging behavior will start for two primary reasons. The first is that their tank is too warm, making it difficult for them to regulate their body’s temperature. Digging allows them to find a cooler spot within the tank. The other reason is a female getting ready to lay eggs.
However, there are other reasons why a bearded dragon will dig, and we’ll take a look at some of them in this article.
Defining the Bearded Dragon 'Digging" Behavior
It is hard not to notice your Bearded Dragon not digging holes and caves in the tank. The behavior is called “digging” for obvious reasons. It is a perfectly natural behavior, and it does not necessarily mean that there is something wrong, so no need to panic.
Digging is something that bearded dragons will do in the wild and for numerous reasons. So, don’t expect them to stop because they are living in a tank. However, there are circumstances under which you may need the digging to stop in the interest of your Bearded Dragon’s health, and that’s something we’ll also examine in this article.
Reason no. 1 – The Temperature within the Tank is Too Hot
Digging is a natural behavior for all Bearded Dragons. Still, if you notice that they are digging excessively or more than they usually do, it is probably the tank’s temperature. When the temperature is too hot, Bearded Dragons can’t regulate their body temperature, and so in an attempt to lower it, they dig into the tank.
You will need to do two things. The first being to create a basking area or a cool place. The other is to make sure that the basking area’s temperature and the cool places are rightly regulated.
The Basking Area and the Cool Spot
You should have both a basking area and a cool spot for your Bearded Dragons. Having these areas allows them to regulate optimal body temperatures. So, if they are feeling hot at a certain time of the day, it is easy for them to cool down.
The biggest mistake we see people making is having a consistent temperature across the tank. That’ why the Bearded Dragon(s) are attempting to find a cooler spot by digging.
Ideal Temperature Ranges for Bearded Dragons
Reason no. 2 - Female Bearded Dragons Digging
Let’s start by getting one thing out of the way, i.e., that females can dig for the same reasons that males do. However, laying eggs is one additional reason for female bearded dragons dig. Regardless of if a bearded dragon has been mating, they may still lay eggs from time to time. As a female bearded dragon owner, you will mostly notice ones ready to lay eggs digging or scratching frantically. The behaviour may appear alarming, but it is perfectly normal, and you should allow them to dig.
Our recommendation here is to use the right type of substrate, which makes it easier for the bearded dragon to dig and consequently be happier. The right substrate allows bearded dragons dig neat holes and caves without the frustration of dealing with scratching newspapers. Personally, we’d recommend excavator clay since that permits female Bearded Dragons dig as they naturally do in their habitat.
Reason no. 3 - Preparing for Brumation
First time bearded dragon owners have no idea what Brumation is all about. Brumation is a form of hibernation for reptiles like bearded dragons. Once they are adults, Bearded Dragons will go into short periods of Brumation. It’s a natural way for Bearded Dragons to conserve energy in winter.
However, before going into Brumation, these creatures will dig a hole to sleep in. The hole serves two purposes, the first being making it hard for natural predators to find them and the second being to regulate their body temperature.
Bearded Dragons continue to hibernate when in captivity. Also, both males and females will hibernate, and you shouldn’t stop this from happening. What you can do is aid the process by making sure that things are as comfortable as they can be, after all bearded dragons need to feel comfortable too.
Reason no. 4 - Fear Can Cause a Bearded Dragon to Start Digging
Yes, fear and intimidation can cause a bearded dragon to start digging, but it isn’t as common. The most common signs of fright or intimidation is a bobbing head, waiving of their arms, or a puffed-up beard.
However, there are certain situations where fear and intimidation can lead to the Bearded Dragon digging.
You Introduce Another Bearded Dragon
Now, if you have another bearded dragon in the same tank, you will have a problem at some point, usually because each one is trying to establish dominance over the other. However, this often leads to the other non-dominant Bearded Dragon getting stressed, and they can display behaviors like slow head bobbing, digging, and arm waving. Stressed bearded dragons dig too.
When you see this type of behavior, the best thing to do is split them up. If you don’t, then the non-dominant one will start losing their appetite and may not be permitted to bask by the dominant one. At the end of the day, if left unchecked, it will make your Bearded Dragon unhealthy.
In addition to moving them into separate tanks, you might also need to consider splitting them up into different rooms, so they don’t see each other.
Other Pets At Home
It is very common for other pets like dogs and cats to scare the Bearded Dragon. As a result, they may start digging. Usually, cats prowling close to the tank or dogs barking near it can scare and lead the Bearded Dragon to dig.
Now, if you notice that this behavior is only temporary, then there is no need to be concerned. It could be that your bearded Dragon got startled, and then they settle down shortly. However, if the behavior continues to reoccur each time your pet comes into the room, then you will want to take action.
You can do two things to remedy the situation. The first being to make sure that your pet does not come into the same room as the Bearded Dragon. It can be challenging depending on where you live, especially if the Dragon resides in the living room.
The other thing you can do is move the Bearded Dragon into another part of the house that isn’t easily accessible by your other pets. While it may come across as isolating your Bearded Dragon when it has not done anything wrong, it is the best option until their stress level is lowered by several notches.
Toys and Other Small Objects
It may come across as weird at first, but small objects and toys, in particular, can cause a Bearded Dragon to start digging which may look like its preparing for brumation. However, there is a reason for it. What may be simple everyday objects like children’s toys for you can easily be interpreted as a predator to your Dragon. If anything, these items are scaring them, and that’s leading them to dig out of fear and intimidation.
Generally, the odd toy or sock isn’t going to cause a huge issue if they are removed the same day. What you need to be careful of are objects that are permanent fixtures like ornaments. A bearded dragon might dig if an ornament is placed nearby. Bearded dragons may mistake the ornament for a predator, and so removing the ornament should stop the behavior. Under no circumstance do you want the creature to have high levels of stress for an extended period.
Reason no. 5 – Searching for Food
Another reason why bearded dragons may start digging is to search for food. It could be because they are not being fed as much as they need to eat, and so they are digging to find more food. If you are worried about feeding too much and your Bearded Dragon becoming obese, that should only be a concern after they are around 10 months old.
Before this so-called sub-adult age, you can and should feed them as many live bugs as they can eat in 20 minutes. It could also be that your Dragon has tried a few other bugs that they like more but you have cut back on them and that’s what they need or what. You might have scaled back on earthworms, for instance. Earthworms are addictive, and by introducing that into their diet, it can lead to the Dragon rejecting other bugs. So, maybe never feed your Dragon earthworms.
Another solution will be to wait. Most bearded dragons can do without food for up to 2 months and not lose weight. Once they are starving, that’s’ when you can start feeding them what you want because their cravings have been reset, so to speak. However, this is only the case if your bearded Dragon is over 18 months of age because a baby will not survive this long without good nourishment.
Reason no. 6 – Not Having Enough Space
If there isn’t enough space for a bearded dragon to roam around or maybe perform the activities they want, then it can get boring and start digging through the substrate as a result. So, you’ll want to make sure that they aren’t getting bored.
Just to be clear, an adult bearded dragon requires a 40-gallon breeder tank. However, if you have more than that’s better. The larger the tank, the more space the Dragon has to roam around. While 40 gallons is the bare minimum, we’d recommend 55 gallons because at this size, it is easier to create the right temperature gradient or maybe use a UVB tube.
Reason no. 7 – Looking for a Place to Hide
One of the reasons Bearded Dragons tend to dig holes in the substrate when they are looking for a place to hide. It isn’t necessarily a bad thing; sometimes they just want to stay in a hole for reasons other than brumation. Other times it is because they are scared of something in most cases the behaviour is natural.
You will want to make sure that your pet has enough hiding spots. There needs to be at least one hiding spot in the tank. Now, if you see that your bearded Dragon spends too much time in the hide, maybe purchase a hide with maybe a hole in the top so that they also get enough UVB when hiding.
Bearded Dragons are fantastic pets because they have interesting personalities. However, many newbie owners may find them difficult to look after at first. Not to mention that there is a lot to learn. So, setting up a tank isn’t where you stop. Once you get the right enclosure, you need to ensure that the environment is optimized and well maintained to serve your pet the best.
As a Bearded Dragon owner, you need to know if they have ample space with gradient temperatures since not having this leads to 80% of the digging behavior. Plus, you’ll want to ensure that there are hot and cool spots along with the correct substrate for their tanks.
Finally, ensure that they are eating appropriately for their size and age. Offer the right foods, i.e., vegetables, certain plants, and insets. If you meet all their nutritional and habitual needs, then there is very little reason for a bearded dragon to start digging.