To those of you who, like myself, dreamed of having your own pet dragon and riding it through the moonlight as a child, you might be in luck.
While actual flight may still be beyond our reach, you can have your very own pet dragon to care for and call your own. They may not breathe fire or soar through the air, but these easy-to-care-for, sociable reptiles are full of personality.
Native to Australia’s scrublands and open deserts, they’re known for their small size, spiky chins, and gentle dispositions.
They’re called bearded dragons (opens in a new tab), and just like the dragons of mythology, they come in a broad array of patterns and colors known as morphs.
With the help of this all-in-one bearded dragon morphs guide, you’ll be quickly on your way to either
A) Identifying the morph of your bearded dragon
B) Finding the exact morph that’s right for you
Interested in learning all there is to know about bearded dragon morphs in under 15 minutes?
If so, just keep reading!
Understanding the Basics: Morph Terminology
First, to make sense of this guide, you’ll need to know some basic terminology. These words and phrases are used to describe certain morphs.
They relate to the genetics of living things in general, and bearded dragon breeding in particular.
✅ Not ready for a science lesson in biology? Click HERE to skip this terminology section and go straight to viewing the morphs.
Most morphs are recessive traits: physical characteristics produced by a recessive gene.
Creatures that display such traits inherited them from both parents. A few examples from the beardie world would be hypomelanism and translucency.
Dominant traits, on the other hand, may be carried by only one parent.
Their offspring may display the attribute whether both parents carry it or not. The dunner morph is one example of a dominant trait in bearded dragons.
Homozygous and Heterozygous
The gene on the left has the same 2 alleles, both of which are dominant (hence the capitalized B’s). This means this gene is Homozygous dominant.
Meanwhile, the gene on the right has 2 different alleles, one dominant (B) and one recessive (B). This means this gene is heterozygous.
For a reptile to display a recessive trait, the animal needs to carry two copies of the allele for the associated trait (homozygous).
If an animal carries one allele for a recessive trait and one allele for a dominant trait, the dominant trait will determine the appearance of the beardie, but the animal is considered heterozygous (het) for the recessive trait.
Co-dominant traits cause different appearances, or phenotypes, depending on whether the animal is heterozygous or homozygous for the dominant feature.
Designer morphs are the combination of two or more “simple,” single-gene morphs.
Bearded Dragon Morphs
Now that you have a good understanding of morphs and how they can be inherited, let’s dive straight into discussing the actual morphs you will most likely encounter or adopt.
Below we’ve compiled a basic description and information about some of the most common morphs in the bearded dragon community. Keep in mind, nature and biology are unpredictable, so new morphs are discovered all the time. This list isn’t all-inclusive.
Normal (or ‘classic’) morphs are similar to their wild counterparts, hence the third common term: “wild-type.”
They have the same coloration, a sandy brown or tan, that wild dragons use for camouflage.
With triangular heads, spiky beards, and spikes running down their backs and sides, they’re visually and genetically the closest to ‘true’ bearded dragons.
Some also come in different patterns, with ‘tiger’ being the most common.
Named for the big cats they resemble, tiger-patterned dragons have backs full of dark stripes that run horizontally – or, put another way, at angles with the spine.
Different colors of bearded dragons usually aren’t actual morphs by themselves, although they can be one of a morph’s features.
Most of the time, colors were selectively bred over many generations.
Breeders meticulously paired the reddest, or orangest, or greenest beardie from one clutch, with a similarly-colored beardie from another clutch, and repeated this several times to produce vibrant individuals.
|Main Color||Associated Shades|
|Red||Citrus, blood, and ruby|
|Orange||Sunburst, citrus, and tangerine|
|Yellow||Sandfire, lemon, and gold|
The hypomelanistic dragon is a light or pastel shade.
They’re born bold and brightly-colored – however, as the result of a mutation that causes the body to produce less melanin (the pigment responsible for a dark color in hair, skin, and eyes), they grow paler with age.
Yes. Just like Michael Jackson.
This morph has clear nails and a wide range of skin tones, running the gamut from pink to yellow, powder blue, pale orange, and snow.
⭐️ Fun Fact: In addition to being a morph in its own right, hypomelanistic can also be a part of other dragon morphs. For instance, there is such a thing as a hypo-translucent dragon, a hypo-witblits dragon, a hypo-leatherback dragon, and more.
Though they have other classic ‘dragon’ features, leatherbacks lack a ridge of spines on their backs. It makes the animal’s colors appear more vivid, enhancing their yellows, reds, and blues.
They also feel smoother, without the ‘bump friction’ of other morphs.
Despite being relatively scarce compared to classic and hypomelanistic beardies, leatherbacks are popular among breeders, collectors, and other enthusiasts for these reasons.
Breeding them isn’t for the inexperienced. Three different morphs can result from crossing leatherback genes, depending on the genetics involved.
⭐️ Fun Fact: If you do any research on your own, you might find references to ‘Italian’ and ‘American’ leatherbacks. These are outdated terms; they mean absolutely nothing. Save for one having sprung up in Europe; there’s no difference between the two morphs – caused by co-dominant mutations – at all.
This trait is considered co-dominant. Leatherbacks carry one allele for the trait, meaning they are heterozygous. If a beardie is homozygous for the trait, it is a silkback.
Silkback, Silkie, or Scaleless
If two parents are homozygous for an incomplete or co-dominant leatherback gene, some of their offspring will be silkbacks.
The silkback takes things one step further – it has no scales at all. The skin of these lizards is smooth, dry, and soft to the touch. They resemble amphibians more than real reptiles.
Silkies are delicate. They need a more intensive care regimen than other dragons. Without the protection of scales, they shed more often than most beardies. Their skin is also more easily damaged – bruised, cut, or dangerously dried out.
It’s not uncommon for a silky to be missing toes or parts of its tail – the skin starts to tighten when it dries, cutting off blood flow to the extremities, which wither and drop off.
They should be regularly bathed and moisturized to promote healthy circulation and kept in tanks of their own, so they can’t be hurt interacting with other dragons.
Even non-aggressive contact can wound a silky. Be cautious when picking toys and landscape features for their habitat as well.
⭐️ Fun Fact: Silkies are the only dragon morph without a ‘beard’ in the classic sense. The wrinkled skin under their heads can’t be inflated, and doesn’t seem to change color.
When you cross a beardie with two dominant leatherback genes and a beardy with one dominant and one recessive gene, part of the clutch they produce will be a morph called a microscale.
These are similar to leatherbacks, but with even fewer spines – none on their beards or the sides of their bodies, and smaller than normal ones on the backs of their heads.
When they’re young, translucent beardies have cloudy skin. It’s very thin, which makes it partially transparent.
The black lining of their inner organs can be seen through the membrane, creating the illusion of blue bellies and backs. Sometimes they have solid black eyes, too.
As they get older, their skin thickens, and the blue tint usually goes away.
⭐️ Fun Fact: There are claims that the translucent morph is prone to health issues – that the offspring of two translucent dragons will be weak and sickly. This is patently untrue. Two parents with robust genetic profiles will breed strong, healthy children.
That being said, some crosses produce better offspring than others.
The best clutches are laid by two heterozygous parents (het trans), though a homozygous and heterozygous trans cross is also good.
Partial trans dragons – beardies that don’t have all the traits typical of a ‘trans’ morph – are poor genetic stock. Trying to breed them is generally inadvisable.
This particular beardie strain was named for the man who developed it: Kevin Dunn. They have several character traits that distinguish them from other morphs.
Some of the superficial ones include…
- Distinctive pattern of blotched or spotty markings (rather than the stripes typical for most dragons).
- Bigger feet and thicker tails
- Scales that point in all different directions, creating a textured or haphazard look
- Spikes on their beards jut out sideways instead of straight.
⭐️ Fun Fact: Dunners like to hold food at the back of their throat before swallowing, as though savoring the taste. Sometimes young Dunners will regurgitate their food rather than swallowing, but they usually grow out of such behavior.
The zero morph was created in Germany. Hypomelanistic zeroes tend to be white, while non-hypo zeroes are more silvery or gray.
It is one of three leucistic-like morphs. They have no markings at all – zero colors, patterns, or distinguishing features.
The only thing that differentiates them from a witblits or a silverback is their black shoulder pads.
⭐️ Fun Fact: Bearded dragon morphs do sometimes change color. This is a conscious reflex, used for camouflage, communication, and regulating body temperature. For instance, in times of stress, the beard will puff out and turn black – a warning for lizards nearby to back off. In hot climates, they grow lighter to absorb less heat; during cold snaps, the opposite occurs.
Zeroes, especially, are prone to doing this, perhaps due to their naturally pale skin.
In other words: if you see your dragon growing lighter over the course of the day, don’t freak out. It’s just adjusting its internal thermostat.
The Genetic Stripe is a dominant mutation. It causes clear racing stripes on each side of the spine.
They run all the way from the neck to the tail and often extend into it.
There’s no way to tell if you’ve got a Giant or not before it’s all done growing. It might be difficult afterward, too.
There are few purebred Giants around anymore: they tend to lay record-setting clutches (more than 50 eggs at once!) and have mostly been bred into other morph strains to – as one source put it – ‘increase reproductive vigor.’
There’s a good chance of Giant lineage if there are the following traits:
- Highly aggressive
- Mostly brown and tan, or has a silvery iris
- It’s significantly longer from snout to tail than the typical sixteen(ish) inches
Better get the big tank, just in case!
When a South African dragon breeder managed to produce a pale beardie of one solid color, he called it ‘witblit’ – white lightning. The name is a little misleading.
Another leucistic morph, witblits are rare and expensive to purchase.
They’re also not actually white. These dragons’ unique appearances – grey, dull earth or pastel colors, and no patterns or markings to distract the eye – are caused by a recessive gene.
Unlike zeros, weros, or silverbacks, they have no color on their shoulders at all.
This is a recessive morph that removes most of the color and pattern of a beardie.
Originating in Japan, the silverback morph never really caught on stateside.
They’re off-white, beige or brownish in color, born with markings that fade over time.
Breeding a zero with a witblits produced the wero. This is the newest morph in the dragon breeding community.
They’re almost identical to zeros in appearance, except for a few dark blotches around the base of the tail.
Paradox dragons are beautiful, sought after, and rare.
They’re born with a body of one solid base color, but over the first few months after hatching, begin to develop the unique adult patterns that give them their names.
When fully grown, they look like they were splashed with bright paint, creating speckles and blotches of color strewn randomly across their bodies.
Unlike the other traits described here, there appears to be no associated gene – it is an anomaly. Since it can’t be replicated through reproduction, it isn’t a true morph.
Albino bearded dragons lack melanin completely. They have white scales and pink or red eyes.
They’re still uncommon in captivity, despite their striking blizzardy appearance.
The lack of melanin leaves these beardies requiring some special care since they are more sensitive to necessary ultraviolet light.
Morphs, Colors, & Patterns: What’s the Difference?
In the bearded dragon world, a ‘morph’ is a defined and unique trait that is different from normal, wild-type beardies. They’re basically like dog breeds, but with scales.
Patterns and markings are traits that may vary between individuals, even with the same morph.
These have often been selectively bred for over many generations, as opposed to the one or two generations required to prove out a morph.
Wild Bearded Dragon Species
There are eight recognized species of bearded dragons in the wild:
These 8 species consist of:
- Central (Pogona vitticeps),
- Eastern (Pogona barbata)
- Rankin’s (Pogona henrylawsoni)
- Kimberley (Pogona microlepidota)
- Western (Pogona minima)
- Dwarf (Pogona minor)
- North-west (Pogona mitchelli)
- Nullarbor (Pogona nullarbor)
However, NONE of these 8 species display the traits common among domestic varieties – the bright colors, patterns, and peculiar anatomy that singles out a household dragon.
Why is this?
Well, it’s because things like paradox patterning and translucent skin don’t appear in nature – they’re caused by genetic accidents, the kind of random, spontaneous mutations that DNA throws up from time to time.
The most commonly kept species in captivity, and what most morphs originated from, is the Central beardie (Pogona vitticeps). Recently, breeders have worked on crossing common captive morphs of the Central bearded dragon with the Eastern bearded dragon (Pogona barbata).
Keepers with smaller spaces, or just looking for something unique, have turned to the smaller Rankin’s bearded dragon (Pogona henrylawsoni), which typically doesn’t grow over twelve inches long.
Bearded Dragon Morph Health Related Issues
Some bearded dragon morphs have related health issues or considerations.
This is important to learn about before you bring your pet dragon home, so you can be sure to purchase the proper supplies to mitigate these problems.
The selectively-bred, high-color varieties of bearded dragons are possibly the most healthy choice. Since most colors are naturally-occurring, these beardies weren’t line-bred as heavily. Genetic variation makes for healthy and robust lizards.
As discussed previously, albino bearded dragons require special consideration in terms of UVB lighting.
This is also true for…
A lower-strength UVB bulb, producing a UVI of no more than 3.0 in the basking area, should be safe. Also, consider limiting the light exposure to only one half of the length of the enclosure.
Scaleless beardies suffer from…
- An increased risk of illnesses
- Difficulty shedding
- An overall shorter lifespan
- Missing toes and even tails are not uncommon
In addition to their special UV bulb requirements, they often need special creams to assist with shedding.
Female silkies are also notorious for being seriously injured during mating. Silkback bearded dragons are so controversial that some reptile hobbyists even believe that breeding for them should be banned entirely!
Wrapping Up Bearded Dragon Morphs
If the pet you want is unique and unusual – something outside of the norm – a bearded dragon might be for you.
These creatures aren’t like other reptiles. Though possessed of docile tempers, they are active and engaging.
A healthy beardie will display curiosity in its environment. Expressive body language means you rarely have to guess what they’re thinking, either; whether it’s annoyed, scared, or eager, the dragon will take care to let you know.
Unlike snakes, or, say, turtles, beardies do form emotional bonds. They become attached to those who treat them well: many enjoy physical affection and can be fed by hand or even cuddled.
To anyone who can provide the right resources, a bearded dragon is the perfect hypoallergenic starter pet. Just think – all a dog’s charm and none of the shedding. You even get to pick the “breed” that suits you best!
Be sure to study up on the potential special health and care requirements of your desired “breed” or morph, and of course, the care requirements for bearded dragons in general.
If you’re interested in breeding, be sure to do some further research on genetics.
Once you’ve decided on a morph and learned how to take care of it, the only step left is to bring your unique new buddy home.