The Uromastyx is a popular genus of North African and Middle Eastern lizards. These lizards are known for their docile nature and herbivorous tendency. In fact, they feed almost exclusively on plants.
Their natural habitat is very hot & dry and these conditions must be provided if you wish to properly care for them. While beginners may find the Uromastyx challenging to care for both intermediate and experienced reptile caretakers should have no problem with members of the genus.
Quick Reference Section
- Experience Level: Intermediate
- Family: Agamidae
- Scientific Name: Uromastyx spp
- Average Adult Size: 8 – 24 inches (330 – 610 mm)
- Lifespan: 15 – 35 years
- Clutch Size: 5 – 40 eggs
- Egg Incubation Period: 70 – 80 days
- Food: Vegetables
- Tank Size: 40 gallons
- Average Temperature: 100°H/80°L
- Humidity:30 – 40%
- UVB Lighting: Needed
- Average Price Range: $50 to $250
- Conservation Status: From Vulnerable to Least Concern on IUCN Redlist (Depends on Uromastyx species)
Spiny-tailed lizard Facts and Information
The Uromastyx is a genus of African and Asian agamid lizards. All species of the genus have a spiny tail, hence their common name spiny-tailed lizards. Other common names include dab lizards, mastigures, and uromastyces.
The most popular species commonly found on the market include the Malian Uromastyx (U. maliensis), Egyptian Uromastyx (U. aegypticus), Moroccan Uromastyx (U. acanthinurus), ornate Uromastyx (U. ornatus), DISPAR Uromastyx (U. dispar), and the Saharan Uromastyx (U. geyri).
There are many more species and even more morphs out there. They come in a wide variety of sizes, patterns, and colors. For instance, the Macfadyen’s Mastigure (U. macfadyeni) is about 10 inches while the Egyptian Uromastyx can grow to 36 inches. The common feature of this genus is their spiny tail – which is large and covered in ringed spines, and their flattened body.
The genus can be found in arid deserts of Northern Africa and the Middle East. They can be found in Morocco, Tunisia, Sudan, Mauritania, Niger, Algeria, Egypt, Yemen, Iran and many more. Simply put, they are widespread throughout the Middle East and Northern Africa. They inhabit harsh habitats with sparse vegetation. They occupy elevations of 500 m to 2,000 m.
Uromastyx Care Sheet
The Uromastyx inhabit arid and hot deserts. Temperature drops in their locale can be as low as 31 °F (although this is rare). During the day they bask in temperature of over 120 F (50 C). During the night, they sleep in burrows where the earth maintains a more suitable temperature.
A large enclosure is most suitable. Since they require high temperatures and low humidity, it is best to house them indoors where these climatic conditions can be easily monitored and controlled. In this case, it is best to go with an Exo Terra terrarium. These are specifically designed for reptiles and serve the purpose of housing these desert lizards very well.
For juveniles and hatchlings, a 20-gallon enclosure such as the Exo Terra Outback Terrarium is an excellent choice. This has dimensions of 24 x 18 x 12 inches. If you plan on housing two juveniles, a 20-gallon terrarium will do quite well. For an adult (with a length of 10 to 15 inches), get a terrarium that at least has a capacity of 40 gallons such as the Carolina Custom Extra-Long Cages Terrarium with measures 48(L) x18(D) x18(H) inches.
Decorate the enclosure with branches, Mopani wood, rocks, and hides. This gives the lizard a lot of places to hide. Additionally, it gives the terrarium a natural feel.
As the Uromastyx are desert lizards, the natural choice seems to be sand. While some keepers blame sand for impaction, as far as care is taken, sand shouldn’t be a problem. For starters, hatchlings shouldn’t be accommodated on the sand.
For hatchlings, use paper towels. This is easy to change and readily available. As the lizard grows and becomes better accustomed to the enclosure, you can switch to sand as a substrate. Also, it is best not to feed the lizard on sand as the reptile can pick up sand as it tries to pick up its food.
While a sand-type substrate is best for this lizard, not all sands are made equal. Absolutely avoid sharp-edged sand. These are abrasive and harmful to the reptile.
Try washed play sand such as the Pure Organic Play Sand. It is free of fertilizers and pesticides which can be harmful to the reptile. Other choices to consider include the Zoo Med Vita-Sand, Excavator Clay Burrowing Substrate, or a mix of ReptiSand and Eco Earth.
Some keepers have also used seeds (ex. millet) and other organic material such as walnut shells, and wood shavings with great success. Other organic substrates to consider include Zoo Med Repti Bark and Reptile Prime Coconut Fiber Bedding. The Zoo Med Eco Cage Carpet is another excellent choice.
Temperature & Lighting
As diurnal creatures, the Uromastyx needs bright light to synthesize vitamin D3. You can offer sunlight by placing the enclosure in a sunlit room. As far as the glass terrarium isn’t in the direct path of the sun, this is the best option.
UVB portion of the sunrays isn’t easily filtered out by the glass of the enclosure. Also during the night, there is no sun which helps maintain a healthy circadian rhythm. If you use artificial light, the light needs to be off during the night.
Light can also be used to provide the Uromastyx with the needed heat. The ambient temperatures of the enclosure have to be from about 80 F to about 100 F. This means you have to create a suitable temperature gradient with one end having a temperature of 100 F and the other end having a temperature of 80 F.
The basking spot requires a surface temperature of at least 120 F. Stack rocks to create a basking platform closer to the heat source. Rocks absorb heat very well. This ensures the basking spot is much warmer than the rest of the enclosure.
Heating options include ceramic heaters such as the OMAYKEY 100W Ceramic Heat Lamp, mercury vapor lamps such as Evergreen Mercury Vapor Bulb, and the Zoo Med Repti Sun. Flat large rocks to consider include the Natural Reptile Habitat Rocks.
If you use ceramic lamps to heat the room, then you can use cool fluorescent lamps to provide the needed light. The advantage of this is that the lights can be off during the night while the ceramic heaters still produce warmth.
Even the most experienced reptile keeper can’t tell the temperature of the enclosure accurately without the help of a thermometer. Getting a quality thermometer is essential when creating the right temperature gradient. Do not guess on the temperatures.
With the help of a thermometer gun such as the Etekcity Lasergrip, you can accurately determine the surface temperatures of the enclosure. Tiny digital thermometers such as the Exo Terra Hydrometer can help you determine the ambient temperatures of the enclosure.
The night temperature needs to be at least 75 F. It is essential that the temperature doesn’t drop below 75 F.
There isn’t much to talk about when it comes to humidity. The uro is a desert reptile and as such requires low humidity levels to thrive. You don’t need to mist the enclosure daily or dampen the bedding.
Additionally, there is usually no need to place a bowl of water in the enclosure. As far as the Uromastyx is well-fed, it won’t need to drink water. Water can even increase the humidity levels in the enclosure.
However, egg-laying females tend to drink water a lot. Similarly, malnourished spiny-tails lizards occasionally take a sip of water. Place a bowl of water in the enclosure, if your uros drink water otherwise it isn’t advisable to have water in the enclosure.
Once a week, lightly mist the sides of the enclosure while ensuring humidity levels don’t exceed 40% over long periods.
Feeding the Uromastyx
Uromastyx lizards mainly feed on vegetation. While they will accept insects, this should be kept to one or two insects every two weeks. You really don’t need to feed them insects. Rather feed them a lot of greens.
Excellent greens and leaves to feed them include Hibiscus flowers, Rose flowers, romaine lettuce, green leaf lettuces, red leaf lettuces, bok choy cabbage, radicchio, endive, escarole, spring mixes, mustard greens, turnip greens, collard greens, and dandelion greens.
The greens should be chopped, mixed and presented to the lizard on a shallow plate. Place the food close to the basking area but not directly under the lamps. On every second or third feeding of the week, grate some vegetables such as pumpkin, sweet potatoes, zucchini, carrots & squash and mix it with the greens.
Foods with calcium blocking oxalates such as spinach, strawberries, beetroots, and kale should be avoided, or at least kept to a minimum.
Supplement the diet with Fluker’s Land Turtle Formula Tortoise Diet, Zilla Reptile Food Adult Iguana Food, Mazuri Tortoise Food, or Gourmet Tortoise Food. (Just one of the above is needed.) This ensures the Uromastyx gets all the needed nutrients. These commercial foods should be offered once a week.
In addition to the diet described above, hatchlings and growing juveniles can be given a single mealworm or cricket once or twice a week.
To ensure the reptile gets the right amount of calcium, dust the food offered with calcium and vitamin D supplements. I recommend the Repashy Calcium Plus.
Feed your Uromastyx lizards twice or thrice a week. Offer them as much as they can eat per feeding.
Uromastyx lizards are generally accepting of handling. However, you have to ensure that the lizard has settled into its new home before handling it. Don’t approach them from above.
Doing so can trigger their flight instinct as some of the Uromastyx’s predators are birds. To help them adjust to their new environment cover part of their enclosure with paper. Additionally, leave their food out early in the morning before they wake.
Uros are territorial creatures and are highly intolerant of housemates. Males show aggression towards one another. It isn’t just the males that are territorial, the females are too. This makes pairing a male and a female difficult especially if the female grew up alone. If you do not intend to breed them, they are better off housed separately.
Uromastyx lizards are long-lived reptiles. On average, they usually live to be over 12 years. With good care, they can live to be over 35 years. As you can see, long-term commitment is needed if you wish to keep reptiles of this genus as pets.
Common Health Concerns
Poor husbandry can lead to poor health. Like most reptiles, uros have few health problems. The two most common problems keepers face with this lizard are metabolic bone disease and dehydration.
Metabolic Bone Disease
While MBD consists of several disorders, it is caused by calcium deficiency. Apart from providing the right quantity of calcium, the calcium to phosphorus ratio needs to be right. Additionally, nutrients such as vitamin D3 which helps the reptile’s body to use calcium derived from their diets need to be provided.
Artificial UVB light and sunlight help the lizard synthesize vitamin D3. Alternatively, vitamin D3 supplements can be offered to the lizard. Dusting the lizard’s meal with supplements such as Repashy Calcium Plus is a great way to prevent MBD. Symptoms include soft jaws, swollen joints, disfiguration, and twitching.
Uromastyx lizards are supposed to get all the water they need from the plants fed them. Feed them fresh foods that inevitably have high water content. Additionally, provide a hide half-filled with some slightly damp substrate.
There also need to create a temperature gradient where parts of the enclosure have temperatures of about 75 F. Place a hide at the cool part of the enclosure so the lizard can retreat from the heat of the basking spot.
Dehydrated Uromastyx lizards show loss of appetite as well as lethargy. Offer emaciated Uromastyx lizards a bowl of water, feed them no proteins such as beans, legumes, or insects, and offer vegetables & greens with high water content.
Other less common diseases include viral, bacterial, or fungal infections.
Pricing and Availability
The Uromastyx lizards are relatively common lizards and can generally be found in many pet shops in the United States as well as in Europe. They can also be found on several sites such as Underground Reptiles, Backwater Reptiles, and Snakes at Sunset.
The price of Uromastyx lizards depends on the species and subspecies. Since they are many species available, the prices vary. The less expensive species such as the Saharan Uromastyx (U. geyri) cost about $70 while more expensive species such as the Moroccan Uromastyx (U. acanthinurus) cost about $225.
Several species of the genus Uromastyx have been evaluated on the IUCN Red List with various statuses given to various species. Some of the species of the genus Uromastyx such as the U. aegyptia have Vulnerable statuses, some such as the U. geyri have Near Threatened statuses, and some such as the U. benti have Least Concern statuses.
In general, wild populations of the Uromastyx spp are decreasing and the main threats to the genus include hunting and trapping for food, and the decline of suitable habitat as their natural habitats are turned into agricultural lands.
Uromastyx lizards may just be the best pet lizard. They are fun to keep and relatively easy to care for. With that being said, they require commitment. They can be very shy when not used to the keeper and require the right diet or they are afflicted with several diet-related health problems which can lead to kidney and liver failure.
However, with the right diet and proper husbandry, Uromastyx lizards can live to be over 35 years. If you have any questions or information regarding this lizard kindly leave a comment.
More Cool Stuff
- Lizard Species
- Complete Leopard Gecko Care Guide
- What’s the difference between Crested Geckos and Leopard Geckos
- The Best Pet Lizards