A leatherback bearded dragon is a type or morph or mutation. They have smaller scales than regular bearded dragons. Although they will still often have spikes on their heads and sides, their backs will be completely smooth. This means their coloring is also more intense than a regular bearded dragon.
Leatherback bearded dragons are a popular morph. But, these unique scales have some specific care needs. For instance, leatherbacks are at higher risk of dehydration than regular bearded dragons. So, let’s take a closer look at what this morph is, and how to care for one.
What is a Leatherback Bearded Dragon?
Like some other reptiles, bearded dragons come in different ‘morphs’. These morphs are simply different mutations of the reptile. Morphs each have slight differences, such as variations in size, color, and even scale dispersal. So, a leatherback is still a bearded dragon, but it’s slightly different to a standard or regular bearded dragon.
The main difference for this morph is in its scales. Leatherbacks get their names from their smooth backs, unlike regular bearded dragons who have spiked scales covering their entire backs. Leatherback bearded dragons still have scales (unlike the silkback morph), but the scales on their back are much smaller and smoother than a regular bearded dragon. They will still have the same spiked scales on their heads and sides. Although the extent of this may differ from one individual to the next.
How Big do Leatherback Bearded Dragons Get?
On average, leatherback bearded dragons tend to reach between 16 and 22 inches in length. However, some may fall slightly outside of this bracket, with some owners reporting 25 inches in length when fully grown! This size includes the length of their tail. Although their scales are much smaller than a regular bearded dragon, their body size tends to be very similar.
What Colors do Leatherback Bearded Dragons Come In?
The leatherback morph is categorised by their scale size. However, since these scales are smoother and smaller than a regular bearded dragon, they can often look more pigmented. This is a huge factor in their popularity. Leatherbacks come in a wide variety of colors, including:
- And more
You may also be able to find leatherbacks with certain patterns, like the tiger leatherback bearded dragon, which has a pattern of stripes down its back. Two of the most popular colors are the red leatherback bearded dragon and the citrus leatherback bearded dragon. So, it may take you a little longer to find a good breeder with these colors available.
Are Leatherback Bearded Dragons Friendly?
Most owners report that their leatherback dragons are friendly, and can make great first time pets. However, it’s important to bear in mind that, like all animals, each leatherback bearded dragon will have an individual personality. Some may be very social and keen to interact with you, whereas others may be more relaxed and aloof.
To encourage a friendly and social personality, you should handle your leatherback from a young age. But, make sure you are always very gentle, and never force your little dragon to do anything that makes them seem scared or uncomfortable. Associating handling with little treats can be a great way to help your leatherback enjoy being held. Just make sure not to overfeed them!
Leatherback vs Regular Bearded Dragon
We’ve already covered this briefly throughout the guide so far, but what is the major difference between a leatherback and a regular bearded dragon? The main difference lies in their scale size. Both will have scales, but the leatherbacks scales will be much smaller and smoother on their back. A regular bearded dragon, on the other hand, will have rough, spiked scales all down their back. Of course, individuals will vary, but generally a leatherback will feel and look much smoother.
Other than this, the two are very similar. However, because of the scale texture and size on a leatherback, their coloring may appear more vivid. The leatherback scaling is caused by certain gene mutations. So, they can be harder to find than a regular bearded dragon.
Leatherback Bearded Dragon Care
Leatherback bearded dragon care is very similar to that of a regular bearded dragon. Glass tanks are a popular option, ideally giving your pet as much space as possible. Include shelters within for your leatherback to use, as well as branches and rocks for climbing. All bearded dragons need ultraviolet B radiation and infrared heat lamps that keep the temperature between 95 and 105 degrees Fahrenheit (35 to 41 degrees Celsius). Ideally, your bearded dragon should get 12 hours of light, and 12 hours of darkness. But, at its coolest, the temperature should reach no less than 80 degrees Fahrenheit (27 degrees Celsius).
Certain studies have shown that bearded dragon diets tend to consist of primarily vegetable matter, with a small amount of animal matter. Your leatherback bearded dragon will usually enjoy eating insects like mealworms and crickets alongside a variety of leafy green vegetables. But, make sure you always check if a new vegetable or insect is safe and non-toxic before offering it. If you’re at all concerned about your bearded dragon’s nutritional balance, check in with your veterinarian! With the right care, many bearded dragons can live up to 12 years old.
Water Retention and Dehydration
A quick point to note if you’re thinking of getting a leatherback bearded dragon is their water retention. Studies have shown that leatherbacks, like silkback bearded dragons, lose water faster than regular bearded dragons. This puts them at a higher risk of dehydration. So, it’s very important that your leatherback always has access to fresh water. Don’t adjust their enclosure to be cooler than the recommended heat to try and help them conserve water.
Generally, most bearded dragons don’t like to drink from traditional pet water bowls. Instead, choose a shallow water dish that they can easily drink from. Some husbandry manuals suggest spraying bearded dragons’ heads to encourage drinking, or to provide shallow, lukewarm water soaks a couple of times a week. It may also benefit your leatherback to spray the sides of their enclosure with lukewarm water each day.
Signs of dehydration include wrinkled skin, decreased elasticity in the skin, tacky saliva and sunken eyes.
Where Can I Buy a Leatherback Bearded Dragon?
Since the leatherback morph is quite popular, you may find that you have sign up to waiting lists for one. Especially if your heart is set on a particular color or pattern. It’s important to choose a reputable breeder when searching for a leatherback bearded dragon. Breeders who are breeding for popular morphs to make a quick profit may be selling unhealthy bearded dragons with hereditary health issues.
Generally, a leatherback will cost somewhere between $100 and $500. This price will vary depending on your location, demand for leatherbacks, and even the color of the leatherbacks being sold.
To ensure you’re choosing the best breeder possible, ask plenty of questions before committing to your reptile. Many good breeders will have positive reviews from previous customers. And, they won’t be reluctant to tell you about their breeding practices – especially when it comes to the health and genetic diversity of their reptiles. Generally, it’s a good idea to avoid pet stores, who often buy in bulk from bad breeders that do not prioritise health and proper care.
Do You Have a Leatherback Bearded Dragon?
Do you already have a leatherback bearded dragon at home, or are you planning to get one soon? What made you fall in love with the unique leatherback morph? We would love to hear about your experiences in the comments below!
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References and Resources
- Sakich, N. & Tattersall, G. ‘Bearded Dragons (Pogona Vitticeps) with Reduced Scalation Lose Water Faster but Do Not Have Substantially Different Thermal Preferences’, Journal of Experimental Biology (2021)
- Knight, K. ‘Scales Save Bearded Dragons from Dehydration’, Journal of Experimental Biology (2021)
- Raiti, P. ‘Husbandry, Diseases, and Veterinary Care of the Bearded Dragon (Pogona Vitticeps)’, Journal of Herpetological Medicine and Surgery (2012)
- Pellett, S. & Cope, I. ‘Visual Identification of Reptiles: Part 2 – Lizards’, Companion Animal (2014)