July 1, 2022

If your bearded dragon likes to spend time outside in summer, now is a good time to consider keeping your scaley friend inside while fireflies are starting to emerge for those dreamy summer backyard evenings.

Why are fireflies dangerous to my beardie?

Central bearded dragons, in recent years, have become one of the most popular pet reptiles for a few distinct reasons – they are generally easy-going, curious, and friendly reptiles; however, beardies are known to often be “indiscriminate eaters”, meaning they will eat anything that looks like food or moves like prey, subjecting them to the risk of ingesting toxic substances.

Beardies are HIGHLY susceptible to firefly toxicity – it only takes half of a firefly to kill an adult bearded dragon. These bioluminescent bugs contain steroidal pyones called “lucibufagins”. These steroids are self-defense toxins that fireflies contain to help them avoid being eaten by predators, such as birds. These pyrones are structurally similar to the sticky substances that are secreted by Cane toads, Rhinella marina, which is commonly reported to the Poison Control Center for canine toxicity from licking toads.

What are the symptoms of firefly toxicity?

Clinical signs of firefly toxicity are acute, typically starting to show within 15 to 20 minutes of ingestion. Affected lizards will often head shake, retch, vomit, or hold their mouth wide open.  You may start to notice stress marks; these are typically dark lines or markings on the belly, neck, and chin. As toxicosis progresses, symptoms may include difficulty breathing, neurological signs such as seizures, and death within 30 minutes to 2 hours of exposure.

What is the treatment for firefly toxicity?

To date, there are unfortunately no reported cases of bearded dragons that have survived firefly ingestion long enough for medical treatment. If your bearded dragon is showing any of these acute symptoms and you suspect your scaley pet may have eaten a firefly, please seek immediate medical attention. TIME IS OF THE ESSENCE! 

Medical treatment will often include flushing GI tract, administering activated charcoal to help treat toxins, bloodwork (to check; electrolytes, kidney, and liver function), and supportive care, including intensive hospitalization, intravenous fluids, and heat support.

How can I prevent my bearded dragon from eating fireflies?

Although lizards, like bearded dragons, can greatly benefit from natural sunlight and UVB, we do not recommend bringing your scaley friend outside once you start to see fireflies appear. Fireflies are most noticeable in late June through late August in Wisconsin. Although lightning bugs are primarily active from dusk through dawn, they can be found crawling on plants or blades of grass during the day. For this reason, we do not recommend bringing your bearded dragon outside during those warm summer months. If you choose to bring your scaley friend outside, try to choose an optimal time of the day when fireflies are not typically out.  You may keep your beardie on concrete (as long as it doesn’t get too hot) or in another place where insects aren’t crawling. We always advise direct supervision! Do not feed your pet any wild-caught insects and if you suspect your bearded dragon has eaten a firefly, we recommend seeking care at the nearest ER facility.

*Please be mindful, that other lizards may also be susceptible to firefly toxicity, such as chameleons. Please be careful if you allow your reptiles to go outside in the summer months! *