When it comes to owning a bearded dragon, there are many new behaviors we soon observe and begin to learn. Digging is one of them. For some animals and pets it makes sense, but for this reptile it can be more of a challenge to think about why they may do it. So, I decided to do some research to find out why, for good. I would like to share this information with you here today.
In answer to your question: why is my bearded dragon digging? Bearded dragons dig for several different reasons; generally to feel more safe and comfortable in their environment. More often than not, a beardie will dig to create a hole to bask. Otherwise it could be for the preparation of brumation (reptile hibernation), for the preparation of eggs (in females), or looking for food. In more negative cases it could be out of stress, not having enough space or not having enough hides.
Bearded dragons, much like other animals, indicate their mood by specific body language.
These lizards tend not to copy other bearded dragons, so their behavior is all their own and is in response to their current environment.
Therefore, It’s vital to be aware of typical bearded dragon behaviors and habits so that you can better understand how your beardie is feeling.
Digging can seem strange. While needing a basking area is usually the main reason, we will discuss other reasons below.
All of which need to be considered because it could mean there are things that you need to do. So, be sure to keep on reading to the end to ensure your setup and care of your beardie is as good as could be.
What Does Digging Look Like?
Before we can look at exactly why a bearded dragon may dig, we need to be able to differentiate it from other behaviors. In other words, what does it look like?
Digging of course is the creation of a hole within the substrate itself. But sometimes this can happen accidentally as they roam.
So, a tell-tale sign that your bearded dragon is purposefully digging is that they proactively use their front and hind legs to move substrate. Even without substrate this behavior may still be observed.
They will be doing all they can to get underneath the bedding/flooring. Scrambling down towards the base of the enclosure.
Why Does My Bearded Dragon Dig?
If you notice your beardie digging a lot, there can be several reasons why they are doing it.
The most likely cause, is for basking. More often than not, new owners report this is the cause and soon come to expect this behavior.
Basking is key for bearded dragons; its their primary way to regulate their body temperature.
Being cold-blooded, they rely solely on external heat (such as the sun in the wild, or UVB in captivity) to keep them warm. At the same time, when they get too hot they need to be able to cool down.
Digging can therefore help them if they are too hot; under the surface of the ground is cooler – especially the second level of substrate that has not been exposed to as much heat.
But of course, laying down and basking puts them into a vulnerable position. One in which a potential predator could more easily attack.
Equally, staying in a specific position for a long period of time can be uncomfortable.
So, beardies dig when basking for comfort and safety.
Usually, you will know digging is in preparation for basking as it is usually done away the heat sources of the enclosure.
When your beardie is digging because they need a suitable basking spot, the key is to create a temperature gradient in the cage.
These lizards need to retreat to a cool spot when they feel hot.
A basking spot should range between 75-85 Fahrenheit; where at night it should be more around 65-77 Fahrenheit.
You can use stick-on thermometers to measure the temperature in the enclosure. They tend to be most accurate. Place one in a hot spot and another in a cold spot to get a more accurate, averaged reading.
#2 Egg Laying
Female bearded dragons will also dig prior to laying eggs. They do this, and can lay eggs, even if they are not pregnant!
Usually, a sign that digging is due to egg-laying is that is accompanied by a lot of scratching.
If you own a female bearded dragon, it is therefore essential that you provide a substrate that can be dug into more easily. Reptile Clay, that you can get for a great price on Amazon, tends to work best here.
This is because it is more safe on the claws of your beardie, where they can dig more successfully without damage and harm.
#3 Preparing For Brumation
The third most likely cause of digging, is in preparation for brumation.
Brumation is essentially a reptiles way of hibernating. Bearded dragons kept as pets will all do this at some point as they age.
Bearded dragons over 12-18 months will start the brumation process through the colder seasons of the year.
Brumation for a beardie can last between 3 to 4 months; during that time, beardies eat very little and mostly sleep.
If your beardie is digging during the colder months, it could be preparing to brumate.
Digging during this time enables them to feel safe (away from potential predators) and also to regulate their temperature more closely.
If your beardie feels stressed, they will dig to hide and ultimately try to escape from the environment.
Stressors may include other bearded dragons (in the same enclosure), bright lights, loud noises, and other powerful stimuli (like other pets!)
For the most part, bearded dragons should never be housed together as they are territorial, competitive and solitary reptiles.
#5 Insufficient Space
Bearded dragons like having plenty of space to roam, explore and undertake certain activities.
Otherwise, they get bored, which can lead to digging.
An enclosure should be a minimum of 40 gallons, 36 inches long, and 18 inches in height for an adult bearded dragon.
#6 Search For Food
An underfed beardie will start looking for food themselves by digging around.
You should educate yourself on the correct and most appropriate foods for your bearded dragon, at each stage of their life.
You should also look to feed them the appropriate serving sizes, how they should be prepared, and at what frequencies.
Remember, baby and juvenile bearded dragons are more carnivorous and do best with more insects in their diets.
As bearded dragons age, their protein requirements falls and they gravitate to a more herbivorous diet.
A great resource on feeding can be found on the Veterinarians Carrollton Animal Hospital (VCA) website.
#7 No Hides In The Tank
If there are no hides in your beardie’s enclosure, chances are they will start digging to create a hiding spot.
You should make sure to place at least one hide in their habitat.
If your beardie spends too much time in their hide, you can always purchase a hide with a hole or open top, so that they will still absorb sufficient UVB, even when hiding.
Do Bearded Dragons Need To Dig
Bearded dragons only need to dig if at least one of their needs are not met. This could be feeling safe, getting comfortable or adjusting their body temperature.
You must research bearded dragons and learn about their feeding and environmental needs before bringing one home.
Bearded dragons make great pets, but they are not suitable for young children.
Ensure the temperature is optimal in their enclosure and be sure to monitor and record it regularly with thermostats. Be sure to replace UVB bulbs frequently.
If you have more than one bearded dragon, make sure they are housed alone as they can get aggressive with one another.
Is It Unsafe For A Bearded Dragon To Dig?
To see your bearded dragon dig so much can be very unnerving, and you may be concerned that the act of digging might cause your beardie an injury.
You should know that digging of itself should not harm them, but it may be a sign that your beardie does not have all they need to thrive. It could mean their environment is not optimal, or you have not provided them with all they need.
Digging can be a sign that your beardie is stressed, hungry, or that they do not have enough space. Identifying if it is one of these can be a challenge. However, rectifying the issue is important.
So, when you see your bearded dragon digging, you should ask yourself what you can do to improve the situation. Look for other behaviors and signs.
Some digging cannot be helped and it is entirely natural. Bearded dragons dig routinely throughout the day.
Either way, it’s essential to provide your beardie with the right substrate.
Loose substrate like sand, bark, gravel, and others can cause impaction and other issues. Loose substrate can also contain a lot of bacteria.
For bedding, you must use tiles (porcelain, ceramic, slate ), paper towels, or there are reptile carpets you can get. If your beardie likes digging, especially in corners, consider a soft blanket, towel, or cloth for your dragon to dig safely and hide.
Bearded dragons make fantastic pets – mainly due to their incredible personalities. However, they can be difficult to best look after – especially at first. There’s a lot to learn and a lot to consider.
It does not just stop at the setup. Once you have the right enclosure, you must keep up with optimizing the environment and maintaining it to best serve your beardie.
Bearded dragons display behaviors that seem strange to us, but they are their way of adapting to the environment. They can be used to show us exactly how they are feeling, so pay close attention.
These lizards need ample space with gradient temperatures – this is crucial as basking is the primary reason beardies start digging.
These lizards need warm and cool spots, and they need hides. They need UVB lights, and they need the right substrate.
Bearded dragons need to eat appropriately for their age and size, so make sure that you offer the right foods, whether this is insects, vegetables, and/or certain plants.
These lizards can get very stressed and do so easily. When they do; they make attempts to hide and make their escape from the cage. This is when you should expect to see an increase in digging.
To prevent your bearded dragon from getting stressed, you must make sure that they are housed alone, and they are kept in a quiet room with natural lighting. They are especially susceptible to loud noises and bright lights.
Ultimately, if your bearded dragon meets their needs and requirements, they should have no reason to dig.
But be aware, that some digging is completely natural, should be expected, and never stopped.
Bearded dragons enjoy burrowing as it helps them to feel safe, comfortable, and secure from predators. It also helps them to regulate their body temperature. Burrowing is in many ways an instinctive behavior.
Bearded dragons need to bask if their body temperature is not at optimal levels. Basking is a bearded dragon’s response to regulating its body temperature and is an effective way of doing so. Basking should never be stopped or prevented as it indicates your bearded dragon is not comfortable and needs a change.
Have you noticed other strange and interesting behaviors in your beardie? Wondering what they are, and what they could mean? Well, my following guides will help explain them:
- Why Is My Bearded Dragon Scratching At The Glass?
- Why Is My Bearded Dragon Sleeping So Much?
- Why Does My Bearded Dragon Stare At Me?
- Why Is My Bearded Dragon Twitching?
I am a practiced pet owner with decades of experience owning a number of different pets. I am also the main writer and chief editor here at Pet Educate; a site I created to share everything I’ve learned about pet ownership over the years and my extensive research along the way.