People and Places
Face to face with a bearded lady By Kate Sears

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Bearded ladies aren’t a common sight, unless you’re a central bearded dragon. At five years old, Marley is almost a fully grown central bearded dragon from the Northern Territory. She’s 50cm in length, which is impressive when you consider that when she was four months old she would fit in the palm of her owner Adrian’s hand; now when she does this her tail goes right up his forearm.

She likes it hot, hot, hot, so Adrian keeps her tank at 32C with heated lights and special UVB lightbulbs that emit vitamin D, which is essential for her body to process her meals of pellets, crickets, super worms, lettuce, carrot and sweet fruits. Her desert-like abode is low maintenance and is situated in the centre of the family’s living area so she can keep tabs on her family, especially when they’re preparing her favourite treat — mango cheeks — in the kitchen, and she can swivel around to watch television with her family from the best seat in the house.

But why a central bearded dragon? With Adrian’s family regularly travelling, they required a low-maintenance animal that didn’t require a boarding kennel or regular feeding. That’s right. Lizards can survive a couple of weeks without food and they can even take care of themselves. While Adrian can only speak for his docile lady, he knows that they don’t bite, and they’re very well natured and great with his kids. Marley happily sits on her human siblings’ shoulders, or on a bean bag while she receives regular pats. She’s spoilt with regular outings and loves a good stroll around the house, where she searches for a dark corner and proceeds to have a nap. When it’s home time, Adrian simply walks around searching for her tail — she’s not the best at hide and seek.

Her favourite pastime is sunbaking on a rock, but her weekly bath comes a close second. Marley looks forward to her bath time as the soak helps her skin when it’s shedding and she even absorbs the water through her skin as she’s not good at keeping on top of her H20 intake. This smart little lady is even toilet trained. Adrian has noticed that the warm water relaxes her so much that she’ll reserve her toilet visit for the bath — yep, Adrian gets the lucky job of emptying the bath water quickly and giving her fresh new water. It could also be a ploy to get the water temperature topped up.

Central bearded dragons are known to only flare out their beards when they’re scared. They simply puff their underneath jaw beard out and the spikes are quite evident. It makes them look really tough, yet Marley’s only been seen a few times a year flaring her spikes out — and it’s always been during her morning stretch. As a breed they’re easy to handle, with their little claws being used to climb or cling on to your clothing. Underneath they are rather smooth, and on the side and top there is lots skin and directional spines — yet, surprisingly, they are soft to touch.

“They’re all for show,” said Adrian. “Her gills aren’t sharp either. It’s just a way to look scary.”

And her most embarrassing moment? When Adrian’s children dressed her up in dolls’ clothes. If she wasn’t already reddish in colour you would have seen her blush!

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