Description: Uromastyx lizards are medium to large-bodied, ground-dwelling lizards belonging to the family Agamidae (the same family as Bearded Dragons). Other names for Uromastyx lizards include: mastigures, dabb lizards, and spiny-tailed lizards however they are more commonly called “Uros” in the hobby.
One might notice that the title of this care sheet has a slightly different format than the others on this site, and that is because Uromastyx is actually a genus of about 18 closely related species. Generally speaking, the care requirements are more or less the same for any of the Uro species available in the hobby so we will not be getting into specifics about individual species here.
Uromastyx lizards range in size from about 10″ in length for smaller species, all the way up to 36″ in the case of the largest species Uromastyx aegyptia. There is a wide range of color morphs amongst the different species of Uros, some of which have been selected for by breeders to produce brilliantly colored individuals such as the ones pictured here. Most commonly, however, Uros that are available in the hobby are colored yellow, orange or red, with varying amounts of grey. They often possess cryptic patterning to camouflage themselves in rocky habitats in which they live.
The most recognizable characteristic of Uros is their spiny tail, which serves as a defense against predators, and is also the origin of their name (Uromastyx comes from the Greek words “ourá ” meaning tail and “mastix” meaning whip). If threatened by a predator Uros will attempt to retreat to a nearby burrow or rocky crevice where they will wedge themselves in face-first and curl their tail around to protect their body. If threatened further, and/or grasped by something they perceive to be a threat, they can lash out with their powerful spiny tails. One can avoid this, however, by being patient and respectful when handling a Uro. In order to do so, always make sure your Uro can see your hand from the side before picking them up, as quick unexpected movement above their heads tends to startle them (likely because they are preyed upon heavily by birds of prey in the wild). To pick up your Uro, try to slide your hand under their belly and support their whole body as they don’t like being grabbed. Additionally, focus on handling your Uro for short periods of time in or near their enclosure at first in order to avoid stressing them. As your Uro becomes more accustomed to handling you can take them out for longer periods of time.
Native Range: Uromastyx species inhabit a wide geographic range spanning 30 countries from most of Northern Africa and the Middle East all the way to the Indian Subcontinent. Within this range they tend to live in rocky or hilly areas where they are well-camouflaged and close to cover.
Lifespan: 15-20 years on average, however records exceed 30 years in some cases.
Diet: Uros are almost exclusively herbivorous, and require a diet with a wide variety of leafy greens such as collard greens, dandelion greens, plantain (plantago major), bok choy, mustard greens, and endive lettuce to name a few. This chart does a good job of explaining what is generally acceptable to feed Uros (it is meant for Bearded Dragons, but much of the information is the same). Uros also relish the opportunity to eat seeds such as lentils, wheat, safflower and grass seeds, and they are especially enthusiastic about seeds that have been sprouted. Sunflower seeds should probably be avoided due to the fact that their shells tend to break into sharp splinters that may cause digestive problems. Fruit can also be offered occasionally, and in small amounts, but only as a treat as sugar should be kept to a minimum in their diet. Finally, the occasional live insect may also be offered, but is not strictly necessary.
Housing: Uros should be kept in an enclosure with minimum dimensions of 36″ L x 18″ W x 16″ H (otherwise known as a “40 gallon breeder tank” in the hobby). Larger species such as U. aegyptia will require a larger enclosure that is at least twice the length of their body, and at least as wide as their body is long.
You should furnish your Uro’s enclosure with rocks and pieces of wood that will hold heat for basking, and that will provide areas that they can hide in in order to make them feel secure. The more areas that your animal has to hide, the safer it will feel and the less stressed it will be. A substrate of 50/50 topsoil and play sand is ideal for encouraging digging behavior, however other loose substrates such as calci-sand or walnut shells should be avoided due to the likelihood that they will cause impaction. The risk of impaction can be completely eliminated by foregoing loose substrates entirely, and choosing to line the bottom with slate tile, or repticarpet instead.
I recommend providing a large feeding dish in which to place your Uro’s diet, however a water bowl isn’t strictly necessary as they do not tend to drink standing water.
Temperature and Lighting: Because they are from areas with intense, desert sunlight, Uromastyx lizards require strong UVB lighting in order to produce vitamin D3 naturally so that they can process calcium properly. Uros also require very high basking temperatures. You should establish a heat gradient in your tank that is about 120 degrees F (48 degrees C) at the hottest spot and about 80 degrees F (27 degrees C) at the coolest spot. Temperatures within their enclosure should never be allowed to drop below 70 degrees F (21 degrees C) for prolonged periods of time.
Air humidity in a Uromastyx enclosure should be kept very low, and provided that adequate basking temperatures are provided this will be easy to achieve. For this reason it is entirely unnecessary, and indeed unadvisable, to mist your Uro’s enclosure. Some amount of soil humidity, however, may be beneficial to them, and this can be achieved by lightly water one side of their enclosure.
By establishing heat, and hudmidity gradients in this way you will allow your Uro to choose the microclimate in which it feels most comfortable, and thus afford it the ability to moderate its body temperature and remain hydrated.
Additional Notes: With a little bit of patience and gentle handling I am confident that you will find Uromastyx lizards to be quite tractable. In addition, their entirely herbivorous diet should make them appealing to those who are unenthusiastic about the prospect of handling and feeding live insects. Overall, Uromastyx species make excellent pets for the adequately prepared. Should you choose to purchase one, be sure that you understand their complicated heating, lighting, and dietary needs. As always we are happy to assist you with this at Aquariums West.
-Zilla Critter Cage 40 BR
-Zoo Med Reptisoil
-Exo Terra Reptile Cave XL
-Exo Terra Feeding Dish Md
-Exo Terra 21 cm Reptile Dome
-Exo Terra 160 W Solar Glo bulb
by Andrew Cumming