Bearded dragons are popular pet lizards known for their calm personalities and signature beard displays. One of their most intriguing behaviors that often has new bearded dragon owners curious is their frequent tongue flicking.

If you’re short on time, here’s the quick answer: Bearded dragons stick their tongues out to smell and understand their surroundings, track prey, and explore new environments.

In this approximately 3000 word article, we will explore the key reasons why these reptiles stick out their tongues so often, including how they use their tongues to detect chemical cues for hunting, communication, and navigation.

Smelling and Sensing Their Environment

Tongue Collects Chemical Particles

Bearded dragons use their tongues to collect chemical particles from the air and ground. When they stick out their tongues, tiny scent particles stick to the mucus coating. Their tongues have specialized receptors that detect chemicals, providing information about food, predators, territory boundaries, and potential mates (1).

A bearded dragon’s tongue acts like a sticky pad, swiping through the environment to gather data about their surroundings. Their tongue flicking behavior allows them to literally taste the air and dirt, gathering crucial details on whether an area is safe and if any prey items are nearby.

Vomeronasal Organ for Chemical Detection

The vomeronasal organ is an extra sense organ inside the mouth and nasal passages of reptiles. It detects non-volatile chemical cues, providing additional olfactory information beyond what the nasal passages pick up (2).

So when a bearded dragon flicks its tongue, the scented mucus gets transported to this special sensory organ upon the tongue’s retraction. This allows them to detect pheromones and other chemical signals that the nose itself cannot sense.

This extra chemical detection gives bearded dragons a secret sensory advantage over many other animals. By gathering rich environmental cues about predators and food outside their line of sight, it helps them survive and thrive in their native Australian scrubland habitat.


  1. The Chemical Detection of Conspecifics by Juvenile Yarrow’s Spiny Lizard, Sceloporus jarrovii
  2. Vomeronasal Organ – an overview | ScienceDirect Topics

Tracking Prey and Hunting

Locating Prey Through Scent

Bearded dragons utilize their forked tongues to detect chemical cues and locate prey items in their surroundings (source). Their tongues function similarly to snakes, picking up scents from the air or ground and delivering the molecules to a sensory organ in the roof of their mouths called the vomeronasal or Jacobson’s organ.

This allows them to gather information about prey location from a distance.

Their tongues do not contain taste buds like humans. Instead, the tongue picks up scent particles and deposits them onto the Jacobson’s organ. Receptors in this organ analyze the chemical compounds, allowing bearded dragons to detect prey in bushes, trees, burrows or other hiding spots (source).

This gives them an advantage when hunting live insects, small mammals and other food in the wild.

Supporting Aim and Spatial Orientation

In addition to locating meals, regularly sampling scents in the air also likely helps bearded dragons with spatial orientation. By gathering constant olfactory information from their surroundings, it assists their aim and direction when striking towards detected prey movement.

Research on other lizards finds the tongue-flicking behavior and vomeronasal sampling supports visual accuracy when targeting prey, even in the dark (source). Though bearded dragon eyesight sharpens their aim, the supplementary odor cues picked up by their tongue provide added sensory information to hone targeting skills.

Benefits of scent-tracking for hunting How the tongue assists
Locate hidden or distant prey Picks up airborne and ground chemicals
Orient spatially in environment Constantly samples surroundings
Improve strike accuracy Supports visual targeting

Communication and Social Hierarchy

Pheromones and Social Signaling

Bearded dragons use pheromones and body language to communicate and establish social hierarchy. Pheromones are chemical signals that convey information between members of the same species. When a male bearded dragon rubs his chin on objects, he releases pheromones that signal ownership and mark territory.

Females also release pheromones to indicate reproductive status and receptivity. Dominant dragons will posture and use body language to display social status.

Some key bearded dragon social signals include:

  • Head bobbing – Males will quickly bob their head up and down to show dominance or interest in mating.
  • Arm waving – Used as a sign of submission to more dominant dragons or as a form of recognition between dragons that know each other.
  • Beard displaying – Expanding their beard to appear larger and more threatening to competitors.
  • Bowing – Lowering their head and torso close to the ground to show submission.

Understanding pheromones and body language allows bearded dragons to avoid unnecessary conflict and determine social rank peacefully. Reptile experts can also use these signals to gauge a dragon’s mood and identify potential stressors or compatibility issues with cage mates.

Determining Reproductive Status

Pheromones and physical cues are extremely important for bearded dragons to identify when potential mates are receptive. When a female is ready to breed, she will release pheromones that signal fertility and stimulate breeding behavior in males. Physical signals can include:

  • Darkening color – Females may turn darker when receptive.
  • Digging/scratching – Females dig and scratch to create nests for egg laying.
  • Unreceptive behavior – Females who are not ready may display aggression or indifference to male advances.

Males can also provide visual and pheromonal signals about their reproductive status. This includes darker throat coloring, emitting mating pheromones, head bobbing, and waving arms to attract females.

Understanding these cues allows bearded dragon owners and breeders to properly introduce males and females for breeding at optimal times.

Chemical communication through pheromones is essential for bearded dragon social interactions and reproduction. When paired with body language cues, it provides critical information that maintains hierarchy, minimizes conflict, and enables successful breeding.

For reptile keepers, observing these signals provides invaluable insight into a bearded dragon’s health and behavior.

Exploring New Areas and Navigation

Creating a Mental Map Through Scent

When bearded dragons venture into new territories, they rely heavily on their sense of smell to create a mental map of their surroundings. Their long, forked tongue allows them to pick up chemical cues in the air and ground to identify resources, landmarks, potential mates and rivals.

By flicking their tongue out frequently, dragons build an olfactory picture of paths, hiding spots, basking areas and prime hunting grounds.

A bearded dragon’s Jacobson’s organ, located in the roof of their mouth, detects pheromones and other scents collected on the tongue. These smells provide a wealth of information about the area and other individuals that have passed through.

Over time, the dragon assembles these odor clues into a complex navigational chart stored in its reptilian brain.

Regular tongue flicking helps the bearded dragon monitor changes in local scents. They can detect when a new potential food source, threat or mate enters their domain. Their olfactory scanning also enables dragons to retrace their steps and return safely to their core shelter and basking areas.

Assessing Safety and Resources

When entering unfamiliar locales, bearded dragons use their tongue to assess potential risks and spot beneficial resources before proceeding. They have an excellent sense of smell that allows them to identify the scent trails of predators such as hawks, foxes and snakes.

Lingering odors from these threats prompt the dragon to avoid certain hazardous zones.

Conversely, appetizing smells like termite mounds or flowering plants encourage further exploration. Following food-related aromas can lead them to productive hunting and foraging sites. Fruiting or seeding vegetation that offers cover is also attractive.

By sniffing their way around, bearded dragons determine which areas are safest and most bountiful to inhabit.

Their tongue delivers key information about shelter opportunities as well. Thermal cues help the dragon pinpoint warm, sunny basking spots. Scents can also lead them to potential burrows, logs and other refuge. An alert dragon maps out multiple retreats throughout its range for security.

Ultimately, continuous tongue flicking provides bearded dragons the sensory input to navigate and survive in new environments. It enables cautious investigation, risk avoidance and discovery of essential resources. Their exceptional scent tracking abilities are crucial for exploration success.


In summary, bearded dragons frequently stick out their tongues to pick up chemical cues from their surroundings. This allows them to hunt prey, communicate with other beardies, explore new environments safely, and establish social connections and hierarchy.

So next time your bearded dragon sticks its tongue out, you’ll know it is actively smelling the world around it! Understanding this key behavior will help you better care for your pet lizard.

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