If you are the proud owner of a bearded dragon then you are also more than likely aware of how exotic and interesting they are as pets. But have you noticed how they can seem to sense you even if their eyes are closed?
How about the little spot on top of their head? Bearded dragons have a little secret that keeps them safe from larger predators when they are living in the wild; their third eye.
You might be asking yourself; do bearded dragons really have a third eye?
In short, the answer is yes, they do. Their third eye is actually called the parietal eye.
The parietal eye is used to detect changes in light to sense predators from above, direct hormone production, and performs thermoregulation. The third eye is a photo sensory organ and is made up of a basic lens, cornea, and retina, and blends extremely well with the rest of their head.
Instead of communicating with the optic center of the brain like the other two eyes do, the parietal eye communicates with the pineal gland, which is why the third eye can’t make out images or be used for any actual eye sight.
So how does the third eye detect light and shadows, direct hormone production, or perform thermoregulation? How should a bearded dragon be handled now that you are aware of their third eye?
Does this change anything in how to properly care for them as your pet? We will be answering these questions and discussing what this bit of new information will mean for you and your bearded dragon.
Also, remember if you ever have any questions about the proper care for your bearded dragon or worry about their health in any way, please, contact your local herp vet for any updated information. Now, let’s take a look into how this third eye works and what it means for your bearded dragon.
Reason 1: Light And Shadow Detection
Since the parietal eye is used for light and shadow detection, it helps the bearded dragon know if it is day or night and even which season they are currently experiencing. In the wild, bearded dragons use shadow detection to help them stay alerted to larger predators coming from above, for example, a large predatory bird that may try to pick up the bearded dragon.
Have you ever passed your hand over the top of your bearded dragon’s head and they panicked momentarily? This momentary panic and fear is caused from a shadow being cast over the parietal eye.
This is an instinctual reaction from their wild roots, when a shadow passes overhead, possibly due to a larger predator, the bearded dragon’s third eye will sense this and alert the dragon so it can efficiently escape to safety. They also use this detection of light to differentiate between day and night and to know which season they are currently experiencing.
Being able to sense the light from the sun also allows bearded dragons to be amazing navigators and gives them an impeccable sense of direction. By tracking the location of the sun and the shadows, they can easily find their way back to their territory, or home.
Reason 2: Hormone Production
We have briefly discussed how the parietal eye is connected to and communicates with the pineal gland, but what does this mean? Due to the photosensitivity of the pineal gland and parietal eye, which together are known as the pineal complex, depending on the time of day, the pineal gland will secrete hormones that regulate the bearded dragon’s sleep cycle and wake cycle.
A bearded dragon’s third eye also assists them with excessive metabolic activity prevention, which can shorten their lifespan, by regulating the amount of sunlight they need. This also ties in with the light and shadow and detection; by measuring the amount and length of sunlight during the day, the pineal complex can set the bearded dragon’s internal clock, which in turn aids in detection of time of day and season which will regulate the production of hormones.
Light and shadow detection, along with hormone production and their internal clock, also allow the bearded dragon to recognize when it has come time for them to mate. This recognition in their timeline and seasonal changes aids in the production of reproductive hormones.
Reason 3: Thermoregulation
Bearded dragons are at their happiest when they are able to bask under a heat lamp, allowing them to increase their internal body temperature to the 95 to 110 degrees Fahrenheit range. The ability to sense the increase in light by using their third eye aids bearded dragons in thermoregulation.
Once the bearded dragon reaches its optimum internal temperature, they will move out of the direct light or sit with their mouth open, which will allow excess body heat to dissipate. It is important to remember to give your bearded dragon a habitat or enclosure with a thermal gradient; this will allow them to move between warmer and cooler areas based on their needs at that moment, using their third eye to do so.
While it is important to provide your bearded dragon with the proper basking area and cooling are within their habitat, it is also important to remember to turn off their lights at night to help them maintain their internal clocks, which is set by the amount of light and dark they receive, which is sensed through their third eye.
Handling Your Bearded Dragon
Now that you are aware of the parietal eye that your bearded dragon depends on and why they have one, we will discuss how this affects the way you handle your bearded dragon.
Since bearded dragons rely on their third eye to alert them to any predators nearby or overhead, it would be a wise decision to no longer reach down to pick them up, especially if your shadow causes momentary stress and fear for your bearded dragon.
Stress can lead to many health issues and mental issues for your beloved beardie and changing the way you reach for them can greatly help reduce the risk of unnecessary stress. Investing in a herpetarium with a side door will allow you to pick up your bearded dragon without casting a shadow over their parietal eye.
Also, always remember to lift your bearded dragon from underneath them and support their full body with your hands.
Providing Proper Lighting
Ensuring your bearded dragon has access to the proper lighting they need is a very important key to maintaining the well-being of your bearded dragon. The parietal eye is photosensitive and can detect ultraviolet and ultrared light, which is why it is necessary to turn their lights off at night.
Using lights at night disrupts sleep and throws off your bearded dragon’s internal clock, resulting in increased and excessive metabolic activity which will in turn shorten their lifespan. By providing bright light during the day and making sure they receive no light at night, you are ensuring that your bearded dragon’s hormone production and thermoregulation are functioning properly.
Investing in automated lighting cycles will aid in consistency that is more similar to a bearded dragon’s natural habitat.
A bearded dragon’s third eye, or parietal eye, is a critical photosensitive organ which alerts them to possible predators and maintains their internal clock, which in turn affects their hormone production and thermoregulation. Properly understanding the importance of their parietal eye and how it functions is an important consideration in how to interact with your bearded dragon.
Ensuring proper lighting for your bearded dragon during daylight hours and darkness during nighttime hours are imperative practices in maintaining a healthy and happy bearded dragon. The parietal eye can pick up ultraviolet and infrared lighting which will disrupt sleep and throw off their internal clocks, so an automated timer could come in handy in ensuring they receive the proper amounts of light and dark.
You should also remember that your bearded dragon’s parietal eye aids them in detecting danger and predators. To avoid being mistaken as a threat, an enclosure with a front or side panel could be just the investment you need to ensure that you receive less stress when being handled.
Bearded dragons are wonderful and mysterious reptiles; they are loving and docile in nature and they make amazing pets. Owning a bearded dragon is very rewarding and filled with scaly snuggles, so it is important to stay up to date on how to properly care for your bearded dragon to help give them the longest and best life possible.
Understanding the ins and outs of their parietal eye will absolutely help with keeping your bearded dragon at their healthiest and happiest. If at any time you are unsure about the health and well-being of your beloved bearded dragon, please, contact your local herp vet with any questions or concerns you may have regarding their care and the most up to date practices and husbandry.