Section I - Morph Types
This section covers the majority of “Morphs” or “breeds” that are currently being offered in the bearded dragon community. Each Morph is discussed and defined as to what makes them the particular Morph type they are. If you want to know why one dragon looks so drastically different from another, this section will inform you on why.
Dragons by Gene Type
Common bearded dragons are most frequently known as the typical domesticated bearded dragon bred almost exclusively of central bearded dragon decent. Sandy tan to even grey in color with lighter bellies and patches as well as darker patterns throughout.
German Giant Morphs
“German Giant” is most commonly in reference to a particular line of bearded dragons being bred in Germany with consistently exceptional size. These dragons have been crossed with all other sorts of morphs for a variety of appearances, but a true German Giant in unmistakeable when seen fully grown. It is rumored in some circles that the German Giant dragons may be the outcome of crossbreeding the pogona vitticeps with a larger cousin.
Italian Leatherback Morphs
Leatherbacks are a particular line of bearded dragons apparently discovered nearly by accident. An Italian breeder noticed some dragons with significantly less spiky scales then normal and bred them into what become the first generation of leatherbacks. Over time this gene proved to be dominate and then co-dominate over time by being bred selectively over the next several generations leading to the popular leatherbacks we see today. Leatherbacks vary some with the quantity of spikes, some with the reduced back scales seen on all leatherbacks but still retaining a lot of the side spikes, and others that barely have any side spikes at all. The gene that creates the leatherback trait is co-dominate.
Silkback morphs were first discovered by breeding a leatherback with another leatherback. This created approximately 25% Silkbacks, 50% Leatherbacks and 25% Normal Bearded Dragons. Silkbacks are defined by their near naked appearance. These dragons lack any sign of spiky scales and instead are covered in all circular and oval shaped scales with a smooth feeling. Because they lack the skins that grow into the tougher spiky scales on normal dragons, these dragons have skin that appears and almost feels “silky” soft. This trait is a super-form of the leatherback gene and therefore is co-dominant. One side effect of this fine skin texture is a sensitivity to UV-B at times, as well as a tendency to have dry skin that needs more attention and care then your typical dragon.
American Smoothie Morphs
American smoothies are the US version of the leatherback bearded dragon. Technically this is a different breed designation as the American smoothie gene has actually been shown to be recessive where as the Italian leatherback is dominate. Therefore the gene that causes the American smoothie is actually believed to be a different gene all together.
American Silkback Morphs
Similarly to the Italian leatherbacks, two American smoothies bred together can create a super-form with the silky appearance like that of the Italian silkbacks. Rarely do breeders market dragons as American Silkbacks because they have become essentially obsolete with the availability of the proven Italian leather and silkback genes.
Dunner Dragons are a new dominate morph with some rather strange traits. Originally bred by Kevin Dunn, these dragons have spikes that grow upward on the beard, spikes growing from left to right on underside instead of down. They have white striping that runs vertically along the tail instead of the typical horizontal pattern found on most dragons as well as conical spikes on their backsides. The gene has been proven dominate and co-dominate.
Translucent morphs are defined by the translucent appearance to their skin surface, most vividly viewable when younger. Translucent bearded dragons are actually the result of a genetic disorder that prevents the creation of white pigments in the dragons skin. Because dragons are typically more light than dark, this makes the rest of the body nearly translucent. When translucents are young you can actually sometimes see right through them in proper lighting.
Translucent morphs also have what appear to be all black eyes due to their lacking of lighter pigments. Some argue the purer the black, the more pure the translucent bloodline. These dragons look nearly demonic in the right color combinations. This gene is recessive and it is discouraged to breed two translucent dragons together as they lead to poor health in offspring as well as low fertility rates. Instead, breed a translucent to a dragon whom is heterozygous for translucent.
“Hypo” Hypomelanistic Morphs
Hypomelanism is the term for a particular mutation in which the dragon still creates black or darker pigments but can not transport them to the skin. This results in a significantly lightened color display on the bearded dragons as well as every single toe nail being clear in true hypos. The gene producing this hypo effect is recessive and would thus require both the mother and father to carry the hypo gene. Through selective breeding, the hypo morph has been paired with lightly colored dragons to create some truly stunning white dragons.
Leucistic dragons appear white in color but in fact they lack any pigments at all and you are merely viewing the natural coloration of pigment free skin. These dragons vary from hypos which are naturally lighter in color as well as other white based breeds because they do not have pigmentation showing anywhere in their body. True leucistic bearded dragons will have all clear nails, and even one colored nail would indicate that dragon is not leucistic. Truth is there is no proof that a true to definition leucistic exists and actually most if not all the dragons currently being sold as leucistic are most likely simply what has been coined “marketed” leucistics. This is a way to apply the leucistic name without actually having to prove what you have is true leucistic. With that said a marketed leucistic is most likely a very white hypo.
Witblits are another marvel of the dragon community, lacking any visual pattern these dragons have no markings beyond simply coloring, which is typically very light. These dragons originated in South Africa from a single breeder who noticed an odd trait among some of his dragons and pursued isolating the gene through cross-breeding to create the first true patternless dragon. Baby Witblits typically hatch with a darker gray hue to them and then most will change to a light white color within a week. The gene is simple recessive, and is not the same gene that creates the “silverback” morph.
Japanese Silverback Dragons
These dragons are born looking mostly normal but then quickly fade into a patternless light colored dragon with what look like silver hues to their backs. Often appearing dark and sometimes even purple when cool as a baby, these dragons really do have some amazing coloring for how simple they are. The gene is recessive, and it has been reported that an attempted breeding between a heterozygous silverback and a heterozygous Witblits failed to yield any patternless dragons, proving these are two separate traits.
Technically not a breed, nor have they been successfully bred with any regularity, we simply wanted to designate their difference from translucents, hypos and marketed leucistics. While there is the chance of one day being able to consistently create albino dragons their mere existence requires special care as they are sensitive to being burnt by the UV light rays, the very same UV rays that their bodies rely on for healthy living. Some Albino dragons have come up by chance but there is very little evidence of them living into adulthood.
Dragons by Color
Typically white morphs are going to be of Hypomelanistic decent. The word “hypo” is more of a broader term that translates to “less than normal” and then “melanistic” being defined as dark pigments. Obviously if you lack dark pigments, there’s going to be excessive light pigments, often leading to breeds appearing vividly white in color. There are also some white dragons who are the byproduct of selective breeding without demonstrating the hypo trait.
Red morphs like many colored bearded dragons typically come from selective breeding and established blood lines. From dark earthy reds to fiery blazing reds, the lines that have been created have really become something spectacular. Red is also becoming more common in the leatherbacks and other breed types as breeders infuse the unique scaling with deeper coloration. When bred into hypo lines red can create some truly amazing looking dragons and with selective breeding, this coloration has become deeper and more saturated over time.
Yellow morphs are derived from generations of selective cross breeding by some of the first dragon breeders to explore such vividly colored morphs in beardies. These yellows seem to get more and more deeply saturated every year as the trait is refined time and time again. Frequently some of the most amazing yellow dragons are the result of hypo bloodlines as the lightness of the yellow isn’t hindered by the now absent darker pigments. Hypos lacking the darker pigments allow for light colors like yellow to really show and over generations of careful breeding there are numerous variations of yellow morphs from lemon heads to entirely yellow dragons with deep colored patterns.
Many orange morphs are the outcome of the selective breeding of red and orange dragons. Orange dragons first started out as colors seen in some sandfire dragons, which had more of a pattern with hints of red and orange, and then other reds that were lighter and appeared almost orange. Through generations of breed refinement, there are some intensely orange morphs available today. Now it is not uncommon to see Traffic Cone and fluorescent colored orange dragons.
Tiger Pattern Morphs
Tigers are less color more pattern, but don’t really fall under the breed category. Tigers are defined by their tiger like patterns running down the sides of their bodies. Coming in various styles you will typically see a striped vertical pattern similar to that of a tiger, the obvious source of this trait’s name. This is a trait is co-dominate and can be passed to any dragon by a single parent and visually show even alongside other traits like dominate leatherback or recessive translucent.
Green Morphs don’t necessary exist in the same way red, yellow and orange dragons do, with such distinctive coloration. Dragons featuring any green at all are most likely to be the result of special coloration on a translucent dragon, and even more so if perhaps crossed with a hypo. Often referred to as lime greens, these dragons have light hints of green throughout their entire body. The translucent trait seems to provide a solid media for the lesser seen colors to really shine through on dragons, and green is one of them.
Currently there are no true blue or purple morphs but it is a color being more commonly seen in some of the translucents being bred. Often referred to as bars on the back, you will see back patterns of blues and purples among some citrus dragons. Hypos are also capable of hinting lighter shades of blue and purple hues and tints.
Truth is we haven’t seen any black morphs being offered as of now. Scientifically they would be hypermelanistic, and these dragons would have an excessive amount of dark pigments leading to a very dark appearance overall. We hope to one day see such a dragon be bred with regularity, but to start there would have to be a few dark dragons brought together to work with. For those of who you say, “But wait, I’ve seen pictures of all black adult bearded dragons before!” to which we would reply, “Correct you are, but with almost certain positivity we can assure you those images were of wild bearded dragons from Australia, and more specifically Eastern Bearded Dragons, a very close cousin of the central bearded dragons, which is what virtually all bearded dragons in domestication are.” With that said, even if it wasn’t a biological faux pas to cross breed 2 different dragon genotypes, it is illegal to export any bearded dragon from Australia now, making sourcing such a dragon nearly impossible. With no known truly dark dragons gene pools in domestic breeding existence, this dragon becoming a regularly available morph may be dependent on a bit of luck.
Paradox Morphs technically aren’t morphs, more of well just that, a paradox. While still a genetic mutation, paradox morphs are not something readily replicated. The term paradox itself in this case means an unexplained variance in the genetic makeup, typically in a visual sense, or the phenotype expressions of your bearded dragon. This can include illogical visual pattern breaks, spots, odd color variances, and just about anything else that is essentially “unexplained” in a genetic sense.
Other Exotic Dragons
Other exotic dragons could include cousins of the pogona vitticeps as well as oddities that don’t necessarily fall under the Paradox category.Becoming more popular again is the Rankin’s Dragon. Essentially a dwarf looking bearded dragon, these little guys don’t puff out their beard, have more pronounced spikes and are kind of stubby in nature.
Section II -Terminology
Terminology in the Bearded Dragon world has come to mean a lot more these days with so many breed types being offered. Even the term “breed” itself has been used slightly out of context as it commonly used to categorize one “morph” from another. This section will educate you on what the different terminology and meaning behind some of the words you will see in descriptions of dragons.
Genotype – Genotype refers to the genetic blueprint of a living creature. The hard code for what makes an animal the animal it is. Internally coded and inheritable information of the DNA structure used to create the being it represents.
Phenotype – Phenotype refers to the outward visual appearance of a living creature. The sum of all the molecules, atoms, the cells they form, the structures those lead to, the metabolism, energy use, expressions, characteristics and essentially anything having to do with the visually observable outcome that is a physical being.
Genes – A gene is the molecular level of heredity passed on from parent to offspring. It is the genes strung together that compromises the makeup of DNA.
More about Genes:
Genes – Wikipedia
Alleles – An allele is the reference given to one of two or more forms of a gene. In a simple example where there are exactly two forms of a gene, designated A and B, this gene would have three combinations of alleles possible. AA, AB and BB.
More about Alleles:
Alleles – Wikipedia
Dominance (in genetics) – Every bearded dragon carries multiple sets of genetic makeups compromising of genetic contributions by both the mother and father. These expressions passed from parent to offspring are known as phenotypes. From the previous example above using only two alleles, Lets call A the dominate trait and B the recessive trait. In this example let’s imagine the A trait is a normal bearded dragon and the B trait is an American Smoothie (Recessive Trait) morph bearded dragon. Those dragons with the allele combinations of AA would appear as normal. Because A is the dominate trait, dragons with the allele combinations of AB would appear as normal. Now Dragons with the Allele combination of BB would appear as the American Smoothie morph bearded dragons because they only have recessive traits.
More about Dominance in Genetics:
Dominance (Genetics) – Wikipedia
Dominant Allele – In an allele set there are dominant alleles and recessive alleles. The dominate allele will nearly always be the trait physically displayed in bearded dragons. That is because, like the name literally states, this allele dominates over its counterpart the recessive allele. In a good example using eye colors and three homozygotes (carry only their specified eye color), we can demonstrate dominant alleles. Lets say that Brown eyes dominate all other eye colors, being represented as AA. Now lets say Blue eye colors dominate all other colors but Brown eyes, being represented as BB. Finally we have green eyes, which labeled as CC dominate no other colors. Using both a Male and Female of each color and pairing them each with each other once we can demonstrate how dominate alleles work.
In the examples below the male contributed the Allele on the left and female contributed the Allele on the right.
AA = Brown Eyes
AB = Brown Eyes Dominant, Blue Eyes Recessive
BA = Brown Eyes Dominant, Blue Eyes Recessive
BB = Blue Eyes
BC = Blue Eyes Dominant, Green Eyes Recessive
CB = Blue Eyes Dominant, Green Eyes Recessive
CC = Green Eyes
CA = Brown Eyes Dominant, Green Eyes Recessive
AC = Brown Eyes Dominant, Green Eyes Recessive
As demonstrated in the example, just because a gene is dominant in one set of alleles does not mean it will be dominate in a different set of alleles.
More about Dominance in Genetics:
Dominance (Genetics) – Wikipedia
Recessive Allele – A recessive allele as outlined above is the trait being masked by the dominate allele, and even while its appearance is that of the dominant allele, it can still pass the recessive allele on to its offspring. This allele can then be paired with the other parent’s allele and become dominant, or be paired with the same allele, in which either case the previously recessive trait can now be physically demonstrated in the offspring.
More about Recessive Traits in Genetics:
Recessive (Genetics) – Wikipedia
Homozygous – Homozygotes have two of the same alleles for that particular gene, and thus whether dominant or recessive, those with homozygous genes will always contribute alleles with the same appearance. In the example used above, the dragons carrying the allele sets of AA and BB would be considered homozygous.
More about Zygosity:
Zygosity – Wikipedia
Heterozygous – Heterozygotes have two different alleles of that particular gene and consequently could pass either allele to their offspring. That means that a dragon could appear as normal and yet carry the translucent gene, which it could then pass to its offspring. In the example used above, the dragons carrying the allele set of AB would be considered heterozygous.
More about Zygosity:
Zygosity – Wikipedia
Pigment Related Terms
Melanin – Dark Pigments
The heaviest of pigments, melanin is the reason for anything of a dark color on the bearded dragon.
Amelanistic – No Dark Pigments
Not a term typically used in the bearded dragon community, this would represent a dragon that has absoluetely no dark pigments.
Hypomelanistic – Less Than Normal Dark Pigments
This term is regularly used in reference to bearded dragons that have very light color patterns. Also referred to as hypos, pastels as well as breeder titled monikers for the lighter of the morphs.
Xanthinin – Yellow Pigments
This is the name of the pigment that creates the yellow coloration in the bearded dragon.
Axanthic – No Yellow Pigments
This is another term not typically used in the bearded dragon community but it would refer to a dragon lacking any yellow pigments.
Hypoxanthic – Less Than Normal Yellow Pigments
Again, not typically used in terms of dragons, but this could refer to a dragon that has very little yellow coloration. In most cases the lacking of yellow coloration is shadowed by the intensity of another color or trait, and with that said, breeders would more likely refer to that trait’s term.
Hyperxanthic – More Than Normal Yellow Pigments
This is a good term to cover the intensely yellow dragons being bred, such as citrus, yellow and lemon breeds. This term references an exceptional amount of yellow pigmentation.
Erythrinin – Red Pigments
This is the term for pigments that appear red in bearded dragons.
Anerythristic – No Red Pigments
This is another term you probably won’t hear but it doesn’t hurt to know. This term refers to the lack of red pigmentation in the bearded dragon. As previously referenced, this trait is probably shadowed by a more apparent intensity in another trait, and thus the breeder would instead refer to it by that trait’s term.
Hypoerythristic – Less Than Normal Red Pigments
This term is less then likely to come up, but would refer to the dulling, or lacking of red pigmentation.
Hypererythristic – More Than Normal Red Pigments
This is a good term for bearded dragons that have intense red coloration. This could include flames, fires, sandfires and many other breeder created monikers for red coloration.
Are we missing a term you think should be listed? Let us know about it in a comment below.