She glances at him. He glances back. She looks away, but then looks at him again. He casually sips his drink. She takes a sip of hers. He walks toward the plant in the corner while she saunters up the ramp to get a better view of him from above.
He decides to make his move and begins to come up the ramp and she nods at him as if this is what she has wanted all evening. They are now face to face, longingly searching each others’ eyes, hoping they both want the same thing. It is as hot as a desert in there, but they both seem to absorb the heat instead of wishing it were cooler.
He slowly puts his arm on hers. He is rough around the edges, and everywhere else, but that’s the way she likes it. His face is stubbly, but that just makes her want to dig her claws into him even more. He makes his move and licks her face. She returns the favor. He begins to bob his head. She bobs her head in response to his gesture. Her beard turns black, making him prickly with desire.
It may still technically be winter, but there are definite signs of spring in our house. My bearded dragons have begun their annual spring mating ritual. How do I know? There are tell-tail signs, plus I’ve seen it all before.
I bought Bengal first. At the time I didn’t know if it was a he or a she, but my nephew’s friend who is a manager of a local pet store came over and sexed it. Oh, get your mind out if the gutter. By this I mean he picked it up, lifted its tail, and pronounced it a female.
There are very slight bumps and markings that only a true professional can use to distinguish between the sexes, and even he wasn’t completely sure. I tried to check out her sex from time to time too, but then I realized I was spending waaaaay too much time studying lizard butt.
About a year later while browsing around the pet store I fell in love with a smaller, darker beardie who was just sitting at the window of its cage begging me to take it home. I didn’t know its sex and I knew I was taking a gamble putting a younger, smaller dragon in the terrarium with an older, bigger one who might mistake it for dinner, but I decided to take my chances. I thought they’d be good together. And, I had a hunch it was a male. I’ve always been somewhat of a matchmaker.
Luckily Bengal, named by my son Lucas for her distinctive Tiger-like stripe, seemed to enjoy having this new friend around. Lucas named it Squirt because it was so much smaller than Bengal. Squirt enjoyed jumping on Bengal and going for a ride on her back. I knew they tolerated each other and that they even maybe liked each other, but I didn’t know for sure that Squirt was a male and that the two beardies had fallen in love and decided to start a family.
I had always said I would never have an animal in my house that ate live crickets. Crickets creep me out and there was no way I was going to buy those things. Yet, that’s what bearded dragons eat, so I had to learn to just get over the sheer yuckiness of them and deal with it.
Last spring, Bengal began eating crickets faster than I could buy them. I began buying 100 large crickets at a time every other day (and let me just say with a shudder “YUCK!”)I also bought meal worms, and wax worms, and supplemented their diet with fresh greens and fruit. But Bengal couldn’t get enough crickets. She would barely swallow one cricket when she’d already have picked up the next one. I had never seen either one of them eat like that before.
There had been a lot of head bobbbing and super-slo-mo type arm movements as if they were swimming in a vat a Vaseline. I didn’t realize it then, but they were exhibiting mating rituals; lizard style. I never saw them go out on a date, or watch Bengal waiting at the phone for a call from Squirt. I never saw them do “it” that I know of. I don’t know how they would seeing as he’s so much smaller than she is and I’m pretty sure I don’t want to know. What happens in the terrarium stays in the terrarium.
Bengal began to grow in girth and then there were visible bumps in her abominal area. She was also constantly on the move, either digging in the sand or eating. Squirt, on the other hand, was sleeping a lot and eating what he felt like eating when he felt like eating it, and then going back to sleep. It easily became very obvious which was the female and which was the male. All Squirt needed to complete the picture was a beer in one front claw and a TV remote in the other.
Lucas and I checked on Bengal several times a day, fascinated by how much she ate and how big she had become. After a few weeks I saw the white, leathery eggs, about 1/2 inch long each, in a pile in the sand. I also saw her lay one or two more. From what I had read about caring for bearded dragons, they supposedly lay their eggs and then go on with their lives.
I carefully placed the clutch of eggs in a separate plastic container full of vermiculate, as suggested by the articles I had read, and then placed the plastic container with all 22 eggs inside the terrarium with Bengal and Squirt. I sprayed them with water every day as suggested, and began waiting for them to hatch which would take up to 2 months.
But something strange began to happen the day after Bengal laid her eggs. Both lizards became what could only be interpreted as agitated. They were trying to climb up into the container that held the eggs, almost as if they wanted to be with them. According to what I had read, that was not what was supposed to happen. But, being the bearded dragon whisperer that I am, I determined that my lizards were different from all other lizards. These lizards wanted to be parents. They told me so by their behavior; and the little sign they fashioned out of sand and old poop.
So, again, trusting my instincts as I had when I introduced the two dragons, I put the eggs in the sand with the beardies and hoped for the best. Within minutes Bengal was sitting on top of her eggs, looking relieved and content. The next day Squirt, who basically did nothing to help Bengal during her pregnancy, like at least try not to poop in the water dish, took his turn and sat on the eggs.
The two of them traded off every other day or so. It was like National Geographic and Wild Kingdom all rolled up into one fascinating display of nature right in my very own home. I watched with wonder as the lizards defied the odds, threw caution to the wind, damned the torpedoes, and, well, I am getting carried away.
One day while priding myself on my lizard whisperer abilities, Bengal stuck out her tongue and ate one of the eggs right in front of my face. I screamed. I was shocked. I was also a little grossed out. Lucas came into the room because he heard me scream and I told him what had happened. Being the logical kid that he is he said, “Well, Mom. She probably ate that one because she knew it wasn’t going to live.”
Wow. Deep. I thought about his theory and realized he was probably right. But then, right before our eyes she ate another one. Only this time Lucas said he thought she was going for a cricket that had moved so she accidentally got the egg instead.
As the weeks went on and on, I sprayed the eggs with water, kept them in a warm spot, and watched as they all turned from the healthy white color they first were into what looked like brown jelly beans. I figured they weren’t viable, but I still hoped against hope that at least a few of them would hatch. I don’t know why I wanted that to happen. What was I going to do with a bunch of baby bearded dragons?
They never did hatch and Bengal and Squirt slowed back down into lizard hibernation, also known as brumation. I kept trying to feed them and took them out to play or take a bath. But they’d happily always go back into their terrarium and sleep for days at a time. It was like raising teenagers.
But, they’re at it again. There’s a lot of action in the glass tank that sits on a table behind my computer. I hear scratching in the sand. I hear thuds as one or the other of them jumps from one area of the tank to another. Their beards blacken from time to time. I started to buy crickets again, but they don’t want to eat them. They ate the worms I bought and some of the fruit and vegetables I put in a dish for them, but they seem to have given up crickets for Lent.
But, if history repeats itself, Squirt will chase some tail and then sleep most of the day away while Bengal will begin consuming massive quantities of crickets and digging around in the sand. If we get a clutch of eggs I’ve decided to try to keep them viable in a separate tank. With any luck we’ll have beardie babies in a few months. Or, with even better luck we’ll have brown jelly beans. I will keep you posted.
P.S. I made a video of Bengal and Squirt and was actually able to upload it! I hope you enjoy my first attempt at movie making.