Herpetoculture

is the care and culture of reptiles and amphibians.


I have become particularly interested in one species of lizard,
Australian Bearded Dragons (Pogona viticeps),
because:



Australian Bearded Dragons are a social species.

    Unlike most reptiles--or, at least, contrary to our naive views of reptiles as animals that merely sit on a hot rock, staring balefully--Bearded Dragons interact with one another. They have a well developed and surprisingly complex gestural language, composed of head bobs (in both male and females), arm circling, body tilting, movements, tail and head postures. The females even have an “I have a headache” gesture that they use when they don’t want to mate--and it works!




Bearded Dragons are naturally “tame”.

    Unlike most reptiles, Bearded Dragons need no long periods of socialization with humans to become tame. You can have an interactive pet even without acquiring the youngest baby and handing it every day. Even in the wilds of Australia, people have been able to walk up to and even pick up a wild Bearded Dragon. Indeed, pet bearded dragons bite people so seldom that it is always news. Of course, the more you do interact with a dragon, the more you understand it, and the more it does interact with you rather than merely placidly tolerating your presence.



Bearded Dragons in America are all captive-bred.

    Bearded dragons in America are not captured from the wild. They are all domesticated, and have been bred in captivity for generations. Owning a bearded dragon does not diminish the wild stock in Australia--which is THRIVING.



Bearded Dragons have appealing physical features.

    Bearded dragons are sized perfectly. They are large enough for daily handling, but they are not so large that they eventually need their own room, like an iguana may. They are robust and hardy. They have impressive spikes, that turn out to be soft if stroked in the right direction. Both males and females puff out their “beard” and turn it black. They catch insects with their short, sticky tongue, so even if you offer them treats by hand, they don’t bite you by accident--although they often tongue you. They spend much of the day as “branch potatoes”, calmly basking. They watch what you do. They prefer to be housed in a place with lots of activity around them, for their entertainment.



Bearded Dragons are NOT mammals.

Bearded dragons do not act like dogs or cats. They lack many of the mammalian characteristics we have come to expect in our pets. They nonetheless have surprisingly complex behaviors, and even behaviors that are recognizable (or analogous) to mammalian forms. Dragons therefore lend you an opportunity to interact with a true alien.


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