How do you tell the gender of a male vs female bearded dragon?
It took me a while to get the hang of how to tell the gender of beardies when I first started keeping them as pets, but, like me, you too will be a pro at it in no time.
When I was learning, I reached out to a breeder who showed me everything I needed to know about female and male dragons.
I’m going to pass all this great info on to you now, so read on!
When Can You Sex a Bearded Dragon?
It’s not possible to sex a baby bearded dragon as soon as they are born, but once they reach two months old and are used to handling, you start checking. However, even at this stage, it is still difficult to tell.
So keep in mind that you can only start sexing methods at the appropriate time in their life cycle.
Bearded dragons below two months of age can be particularly difficult to handle when trying to determine their sex. Younger beardies below twelve weeks old are not used to handling and other forms of social interactions.
As such, you may have them squirming each time you attempt to handle them for sexing. This can result in their tail dropping.
One of the challenges you’ll face when sexing baby bearded dragons is that most major morphological features that should create noticeable differences between both genders are not well developed at this stage.
Observable traits like head sizes, larger bodies, femoral pores, hemipenal bulges, and tail size are not well developed yet.
On average, bearded dragons have a lifespan of ten years, and most times it takes 12 months for these observable traits to become fully developed. (1)
Experienced keepers may not necessarily have difficulty sexing a 12-week-old beardie, given that the hemipenal bulges would have started emerging at this stage.
Using the flashlight technique, you can check for the hemipenal bulges when trying to sex your bearded dragon.
That’s just one method for how to tell the gender of a bearded dragon. Let’s take a look at some more.
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How to Tell the Sex of a Bearded Dragon?
There are several physical traits and behavioral characteristics that can help us tell the difference between male and female beardies.
Some of the markers for gender difference will require an inspection of the reproductive structures, while for others, you’ll need to closely study how your beardie behaves.
Let’s look at some of these differences in detail.
#1 Hemipenal bulges
Checking for hemipenal bulges is one sure way to sex your beardie.
Although the hemipenes show signs of expression at embryonic stages in female beardies, it is specifically the male sex organ in reptiles. (2)
You’ll find them on the ventral side of the base of the tail. If your beardie is over 12 weeks old and you do not find hemipenal bulges under the base of the tail, it simply means that your bearded dragon is a girl.
I recall how, out of excitement, I almost injured my beardie some years back while trying to check its hemipenal bulges.
That was a beginner blunder that didn’t age too well.
Eventually, I had to use a flashlight to check, and you should do the same. This is particularly advisable if your bearded dragon is usually squirmy.
#2 Tail Size
The tail size is another physical difference between male and female beardies, amongst others, such as beards and head size. The tails in each gender take a unique conformation both in shape and size.
In males, the tail is thicker and wider, especially around the region of the tail base. Can you see the link between the hemipenal bulges and the tail base?
The thicker and wider tail in the males is a result of the hemipenal bulges. The tail base serves as the storage region for the hemipenal bulges.
The females, on the other hand, have thinner tails. The absence of hemipenal bulges accounts for the narrower tails in the females.
You’ll also notice that the tail continues to taper towards the end as you move away from the base in females.
#3 Femoral Pores
The femoral pores help to tell the difference between male and female beardies. However, this method is limited in application as you can only sex adult beardies from 12 months of age this way.
If you’re sexing beardies below 12 months of age, you’ll most likely confuse the sexes as the bearded dragon pores aren’t usually well developed at that stage.
The femoral pores are useful for the secretion of certain lipid and protein substances. (3)
The bearded dragons attract their mates and set boundaries for their territories with these secretions. You’ll find the femoral pores on the ventral side of the thighs of your bearded dragon.
Now, one thing to note here is that both male and female beardies have femoral pores. However, males tend to have larger and more distinct pores.
You’ll often see the pores all along the inner thighs forming small pebbles from the thigh to the knee area.
In females, on the other hand, the pores are usually around the size of a pin, and they tend to be fewer.
To check for femoral pores,
i) first ensure that your beardie is not agitated as you handle it.
ii) pick it up by placing your hand on its back.
iii) try to use your hand to make the belly area visible.
iv) inspect the thighs at this point. You should be able to see some pores if your beardie is over 12 months.
#4 Cloacal Opening
Generally, all reptiles have a cloacal opening. The cloacal opening serves as a vent for the expulsion of waste materials and breeding.
In sexually dimorphic lizards, like bearded dragons, the cloacal opening is usually more pronounced in males.
The hemipenes of the males are everted through the slit opening during the breeding season, and this accounts for the wider size.
Although body size can also be a determining factor for cloacal opening width, females still tend to have narrower openings. To make perfect deductions from your sex determination using this approach, ensure you consider the body size.
In such circumstances, a method I usually adopt is to have a bearded dragon of known sex that has the same body size as the beardie I’m planning to sex.
This way, I get to make accurate comparisons.
By combining this approach with other methods like checking the hemipenal bulges and femoral pores, you can’t be wrong with the sex.
To check for the cloacal opening width, follow the same steps as outlined above for the femoral pores.
The video below has a great explanation.
What other differences can you see when comparing male vs female bearded dragon?
Differences Between Male and Female Bearded Dragons
Males and female bearded dragons have peculiar differences in look and behavior. By observing these differences, you can arrive at an informed decision on their gender.
You only need to know what to look out for.
#5 Body Size
Due to the exercises that they perform, male beardies tend to be bigger than their female counterparts. The bigger size gives them the necessary advantage when mating, hunting, and competing with other males.
Generally, adult beardies have a length between 16 and 24 inches. The males are usually around 21-24 inches long, while the females are mostly within the range of 16-19 inches.
Body weight can also be a good factor for sexing your beardie. You’ll always find a notable difference in body weight, close to about 100 grams between both sexes, with the adult male weighing between 450-500 grams.
Read more about bearded dragon full size.
#6 Head Size and Shape
In bearded dragons, the boys are more involved with hunting activities and defensive behaviors. As such, their head size and shape are adapted to suit these activities.
The males have wider skull, and this results in them having wider and thicker heads when compared to the females.
#7 The Use of Spikes
Male and female beardies present their spikes in different kinds of situations. The females will often expand their spikes as a defensive weapon when there is a perceived threat.
On the other hand, the males expand their spikes more often during mating. They may also do this when they feel threatened, but that will normally be associated with dark beards, mouth gaping, and hissing.
#8 Behavioral Differences
If you understand some behavioral patterns in bearded dragons, you can easily make an educated guess at their sex and confirm with other methods.
Here are some behaviors in bearded dragons that you need to be familiar with.
i) Submission Through Arm-waving:
Arm-waving can naturally denote many things in beardies. But the arm-waving in bearded dragons is often an act of submitting to predators during an attack or to stronger beardies during contention.
Female beardies also exhibit arm-waving as a sign of submission during mating.
ii) Black and Puffed Beard:
Bearded dragons are territorial reptiles. Whenever they notice an incursion into their space, they tend to react, sometimes in form of beard puffing.
The beardie will normally puff its beards in such a situation as if to say, “Hey you, what do you want here? I’m not expecting any visitors today!”
This is simply the bearded dragon’s way of announcing its dominance within the territory it has marked for itself.
This behavior is more expressed in males, and you’ll often see the beards taking a black color when this happens.
iii) Head Bobbing:
Head bobbing is a more common behavior in males. This expression can be quite difficult to interpret at times.
This is because it can be a mix of aggressive and submissive gestures.
Sometimes, you may see your beardie pairing head bobbing with arm waving. When you notice this often in your beardie, this likely indicates a submissive nature, and there’s a great chance your beardie is female.
On the other hand, if you’ve noticed the head-bobbing behavior alongside beard puffing more frequently, then you might be seeing an aggressive expression which most likely indicates you have a male.
iv) Hole Digging:
Both sexes engage in hole digging. However, they dig holes for different reasons.
Females dig holes so they can have somewhere to lay their eggs. The males dig to create a space for brumation.
v) Territorial Aggression:
Female beardies tend to be less aggressive when it comes to sharing territory with others as long as they are equal in size.
The males, on the other hand, will not even hear of it if you want to pair them up with others!
I found this video helpful when learning the difference between male and female bearded dragons; check it out.
#1 Can bearded dragons change gender?
At the embryonic stage, incubation temperature can induce a gender change. (4)
Male beardies having a ZZ sex chromosome pair may revert course and develop as females at temperatures above 32°C. Female beardies with a ZW sex chromosome can also develop into males below 32°C.
#2 Do bearded dragons lay eggs without mating?
Yes, female beardies can lay eggs without any close contact with a male.
Once a beardie has reached sexual maturity, laying eggs becomes a regular process each breeding season. Even if a female bearded dragon has never been anywhere near a male, it will still lay eggs at the appropriate time.
#3 Can you keep male and female beardies together?
Don’t keep a female beardie with a male unless she’s at least two years old.
It’s risky to keep female bearded dragons with males when they’ve not fully reached sexual maturity. Also, ensure that she’s strong and in good health condition before pairing her up.
#4 Which is better to have? Male or female bearded dragon?
It all depends on what you want. Males can be very social and outgoing but can also be aggressive too. Females can be calm, but you must be ready to cater to her eggs.
#5 Are female bearded dragons bigger than males?
No, female bearded dragons are smaller than males. They are shorter and don’t weigh as much.
Competence and skill are super important for raising beautiful reptiles like beardies. Even if you’re a beginner at keeping bearded dragons, it is crucial to know male vs female bearded dragon sexing methods.
My best bet is the hemipenal bulges. Over the years I’ve learned by experience to stick more with that method, especially when I’m unsure about other signs.
It almost never goes wrong! The accuracy comes with practice, so it’s all about putting in the work.
Anything for that pet buddy.
- 1. Schabacker S. Bearded Dragons [Internet]. National Geographic. 2019. Available from: https://www.nationalgeographic.com/animals/reptiles/facts/bearded-dragon
- 2. Whiteley SL, Holleley CE, Ruscoe WA, Castelli M, Whitehead DL, Lei J, et al. Sex determination mode does not affect body or genital development of the central bearded dragon (Pogona vitticeps). EvoDevo. 2017;8.
- 3. Femoral Pore – an overview | ScienceDirect Topics [Internet]. www.sciencedirect.com. [cited 2022 Jul 21]. Available from: https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/veterinary-science-and-veterinary-medicine/femoral-pore
- 4. Deveson IW, Holleley CE, Blackburn J, Marshall Graves JA, Mattick JS, Waters PD, et al. Differential intron retention in Jumonji chromatin modifier genes is implicated in reptile temperature-dependent sex determination. Science Advances. 2017;3.
Alina Hartley is a small-town girl with a ginormous love of bearded dragons. It all started with Winchester, a baby bearded who was abandoned at the shelter by his former owners because of a birth defect that caused one front leg to be shorter than the other. Alina originally went to the shelter looking for a guinea pig, but one look at Winchester and it was love at first sight. From that day on, Alina has dedicated her life to learning everything she can about bearded dragons. She loves helping new beardie parents start their incredible journey with these magnificent reptiles.
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