Bearded Dragons are the Craziest Pets

Henry Flagler with a blueberry on his head. Bearded Dragons love berries. We almost named him “Raspberry,” because he had a fuchsia face from pounding down so many berries when we first saw him.

We have fishing, hunting, and a charming view of the sunset. The only problems are the pests. You see, most places have mice or mosquitoes. We have… dragons!

Hiccup describing Berk in How to Train Your Dragon, also quite applicable to Florida

I don’t know about you, but I have never really thought of lizards as being particularly intelligent creatures. When we say someone is “thinking with his lizard brain,” it is not generally regarded as a compliment.

And then we adopted a bearded dragon… A lizard that loves to bond with people and other pets.

Henry Flagler has been living with us for a while now. After putting away something like 50 billion crickets and superworms, the fellow is now about two feet long.

He is also housebroken. I am not kidding.

As he grew larger, we started letting him spend a lot more time outside of his habitat. He wanders freely around the house, spending hours basking on a dog bed in front of one of the sliding glass doors that opens up onto our courtyard. (Bearded dragons are like biological solar panels. They spread out their torsos into a satellite shape to collect as much sunlight as possible. It’s hilarious.) When he wants to cool down, we will find him hidden underneath a piece of furniture with his little head sticking out.

I feel like we have almost accomplished some stereotype of Floridians at this point. “Welcome to our house, be careful not to step on the giant lizard.”

Henry gets along perfectly with our Jack Russell terrier and 18-year-old calico cat. Sometimes we will find the three of them curled up together in the sun. They run around together, exploring every little nook. When they get separated, they go looking for each other.

We are not the only ones whose dog and dragon are BFFs. Here’s a video of a bearded dragon that likes to play tug o’ war with a corgi:

The only place Henry cannot be left unattended for long is in the backyard. Although we have a fence at this house (thank God- I no longer have to deal with deer wiping out my gardens), we also have a swimming pool. I do not know if bearded dragons can swim, but I am not interested in taking the chance.

(Iguanas are fantastic swimmers, incidentally. We went to a resort in Key West that had a colony of iguanas living on a landscaped island right in the middle of a large pool. The iguanas – some of which were enormous, as they get to be about 6 feet long – would swim in the pool alongside guests. They are also well-known for climbing down into the sewers in South Florida. As they can hold their breath for a very long time, they will climb through miles of pipes looking for a chance to escape. Hence the phenomenon of finding a triumphant iguana floating in your toilet bowl.)

Iguana lounging poolside in Key West.

Anyway, after watching this video, we started to wonder if we could train our dragon:

We cannot get Henry to come on command like Mochi does no matter how many blueberries we are offering. But every morning, we open up the door and let him outside into the grass. Just like the dog, he wanders around for a bit and then does his business outside. He no longer goes to the bathroom inside his habitat at all. He just waits for you to let him out.

He loves having you read to him. Henry’s favorite time is when we read our morning newspapers next to the pool and he gets to hang out and listen to the conversation. In the mornings, Florida looks like a truly primordial place, with a low fog hanging over the tropical vegetation and large, screeching, pterodactyl-like birds diving from tree to tree. Henry has a love-hate relationship with the birds. He seems to enjoy the songbirds, but the shadow of larger birds will send him running for cover.

Because bearded dragons change colors to reflect their moods, you can tell when your lizard is content, angry, or frightened. When you are living with one around the clock, that almost becomes a substitute for language. He develops an agenda, he demands attention, he throws tantrums and snuggles. I have started wondering whether the thousands of lizards we are surrounded by down here have more complex lives than I gave them credit for.

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