Once a rare and relatively unheard of pet, the Uromastyx has been making BIG waves in the reptile community over the last several years!
A medium to large sized lizard, the Uromastyx has won over skeptics with its tame demeanor, diversity of species (There are a whopping 15 different ones!), and relative ease of care.
However, this isn’t to suggest that caring for one of these burrowing beauties is naturally intuitive…
In fact, with an abundance of downright WRONG information circulating on the web about care, Reptile Guide just had to set the record straight on how to properly care for a Uromastyx.
So, regardless of whether you’ve recently brought one of these guys home or are thinking of adopting one… just keep reading to become a downright Uromastyx expert in less than 10 minutes!
In This Article
What is a Uromastyx?
Mild mannered, stoic, and downright prehistoric looking, the Uromastyx is a medium sized lizard that inhabits much of North Africa and the Middle East.
More specifically, the Uromastyx can naturally be found in the Sahara Desert, Sudan, Egypt, and Algeria.
A natural burrower, the Uromastyx loves to dig in soft soiled environments such as dry riverbeds, but has also been known to thrive in rocky cliff sides. Their short, stocky, and powerful limbs aid in their burrowing.
Because the Uromastyx live in incredibly dry and rough climates, they are extremely hardy. This makes them fairly adaptable and easy pets to care for.
It is believed there are currently 15 species of Uromastyx, all of which require very similar care.
However, only these 6 species of Uromastyx are currently available as pets in the United States…
- Acanthinurus (Bell’s Dabb Lizard)
- Aegypticus (Egyptian Spiny Tailed Lizard)
- Benti (Bent’s Spiny Tailed Lizard)
- Hardwicki (Hardwicke’s Spiny Tailed Lizard)
- Ocellatus (Ocellated Dabb Lizard)
- Ornatus (Ornate Spiny Tailed Lizard)
Physically, they are most notably distinguished by their tail, which features spiny rings.
Researchers have found that their tail is often their first line of defense against predators as they use it to swipe at them while hissing.
When it comes to color, Uromastyx can vary greatly, however all tend to have the most striking colors once they’ve reached sexual maturity at around 4 years of age.
Scales can range from blotchy reds to bright yellows, sunset oranges, lush greens, and even blues! However, the most basic and common colors will be shades of brown and grey.
Male Uromastyx tend to have more vibrant and pigmented colors than female Uromastyx.
Virtually all Uromastyx will have a base color that is predominantly grey or brown with
Like other lizards, a Uromastyx can change in color depending on its temperature as well as stress level.
How big do Uromastyx get?
On average, Uromastyx grow to be between 10 and 18 inches in length. However, the largest species of Uromastyx, the Egyptian, can exceed 3 feet in length.
Typically, males tend to be longer than females with an average length of 15 inches. Females average in length 13 inches.
When it comes to weight, the average Uromastyx weighs around 1 pound, although this can vary depending on season.
Research has shown, it can take up to 4 years for wild Uromastyx to reach their full size!
⭐️ Fun Fact: Did you know? The Uromastyx goes by several different names, including spiny tail lizard, spiny-tailed agamid, mastigures, and dabb lizard.
With proper care, you can expect your Uromastyx to live up to 15 years! However, some have been known to live over 20 years as well.
The problem with measuring lifespan is that very little research has been conducted on Uromastyx in the wild, especially within recent years.
To date, most research has been conducted between 1970-2000 by scholars.
The biggest threat to Uromastyx in the wild is that of people.
They are often sold to tourists as souveniors for less than $5 USD by children on the side of the road or at souks (markets) in the Middle East.
Herbalists also have a fondness for these lizards as they believe them to hold magical properties. Additionally, they are often struck by cars on the roads where they like to bask.
In fact, the Spanish division of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) has even brought forth a legal proposal to help better protect the vulnerable wild population.
|Quick Facts at a Glance:|
|Common name||Uromastyx or Spiny Tailed Lizard|
|Scientific name||Uromastyx ______ (depending on species)|
|Adult size||10-36 inches (average 15-18 inches)|
|Price||$100-$500+ (depends on species)|
|Diet||Leafy greens, seeds, some fruit, the occasional insect|
|Tank Size||40 gallon for juveniles, 4 foot long tank for adults (5-6 feet long for larger adults)|
|Temperature & Humidity||Basking spot: 120-130°F, Warm Side: 95-100°F, Cool side: 80-90°F, Humidity: 30-40%|
|Popular alternatives||Bearded Dragon|
Uromastyx Care Guide
As a desert dwelling species, the Uromastyx requires strong levels of heat and UV radiation to not only warm itself, but to properly regulate both its appetite and digestive system.
Current and prospective owners will need to ensure they have adequate supplemental lighting to keep their pet happy and healthy.
Curious how to properly care for a Uromastyx? If so, simply keep reading to discover everything you need to know about their enclosure, diet, lighting, and more needs!
Uromastyx Food and Diet
Uromastyx are one of the BEST vegetarian reptiles you can own as they enjoy a diet that is predominantly veggies.
However, as omnivores, they are also know to enjoy insects, particularly ants and beetles in the wild. In captivity, insects such as dubia roaches, crickets, black soldier fly larvae, and mealworms can be given as treats at most several times a month.
Some species of Uromastyx will accept insects more eagerly than others; Moroccan and Ornate Uromastyx will gobble up insects while a Egyptian Uromastyx will often shun them.
The BEST diet for ALL species of Uromastyx will consist of fresh salads offered daily. You’ll want to wash and cut up a mixture of veggies to ensure your pet has a variety of foods to enjoy.
Place the salad in a shallow bowl and place near their basking spot but not directly under so the vegetables will not whither.
Uromastyx can enjoy the following vegetables:
- Baby leaf lettuce
- Bell peppers
- Bok choy
- Butternut squash
- Collard greens
- Dandelion greens
- Hibiscus flowers
- Mustard greens
- Prickly pear leaves
- Red leaf lettuce
- Romain lettuce
- Split peas
- Spring mix (prepackaged)
- Sweet potatoes
Foods such as kale and spinach should be AVOIDED as they contain calcium-blocking oxalates which will inhibit a Uromastyx’s ability to properly absorb calcium, this affecting their overall calcium:phosphorous ratio.
Speaking of a proper calcium to phosphorous ratio, you’ll want to dust your Uromastyx’s salad once a week with a good calcium supplement.
Opt for calcium supplements without D3 if your Uromastxy has plenty of exposure to actual sunlight or you plan on using a mercury vapor bulb in their enclosure. However, it should be noted that this bulb is not the most beginner-friendly.
Most owners will need to use a calcium supplement WITH vitamin D3. Either way, be sure to choose a calcium supplement that does NOT contain phosphorous.
You’ll also want to dust their food with a multi-vitamin once a week on a separate day from when you give calcium.
Both the calcium supplement and multi-vitamin can be readily purchased at any pet store or online.
In addition to fresh vegetables, you can also feed your Uromastyx millet, lentils, and other small beans. Many Uromastyx will also happily accept bird seed.
🤓 Expert Tip: Although many Uromastyx will happily eat bird seed, be sure to avoid feeding sunflower seeds as their sharp edges can potentially lead to internal injury.
Do Uromastyx need water?
Since Uromastyx hail from dry, arid climates, they do not require much water. However, hatchlings and juveniles will benefit from having a shallow water dish placed within their enclosure.
Some veterinarians recommend using a humidifier to fog the enclosure once a week at night to provide drinking water.
This practice emulates a Uromastyx’s natural environment since they typically only drink water in the form of condensed fog or rain on their bodies.
When it comes to materials for the enclosure, you’ll have your fair share of options that range in both price and functionality.
By far the most popular option, a glass terrarium will be the most readily available and easy to keep clean.
However, as your Uromastyx grows, finding a glass terrarium large enough to accommodate it can become very expensive.
Wooden enclosures such as those made from plywood and melamine are great because they insulate extremely well. Melamine also gets extra points as its white coloring reflects light nicely.
However, wood enclosures can be very pricy if you’re not able to make them yourself. On top of this they can also be heavy and easily ruined if they become wet.
Another material you could use for the enclosure is plastic or more specifically PVC.
Plastic enclosures are cheap and work great for quickly growing juveniles who will need to be switched to a larger enclosure eventually.
However, many owners find plastic enclosures to be eyesores and less than ideal for full grown Uromastyx. A plastic enclosure is at best a temporary home for a growing baby.
🤓 Expert Tip: Use a screen lid atop your enclosure to allow for proper air flow, lower humidity levels, and better access to overhead lighting.
Uromastyx Tank Size
For babies and juveniles, you can get away with a mere 20 gallon tank (often referred to as “20 gallon breeder”). However, a full grown Uromastyx will need much more space!
Ultimately, your pet will appreciate as much space as you can provide them! So don’t be afraid to go big if you’ve got the space.
Consider the following Uromastyx tank size recommendations…
- 20 Gallon breeder tank for babies and juveniles under 6 inches long
- 40 Gallon tank/terrarium for Uromastyx 6-10 inches long (36″ long x 18″ wide x 18″ deep)
- 4 foot long terrariums for Uromastyx 11-15 inches long (a 98 gallon tank that measures 48″L x 24″W by 24″D will work best)
- 5-6 foot long terrariums for Uromastyx 15+ inches long (a 160+ gallon tank that measures 60-72″L x 24″W will work best)
🤓 Expert Tip: No matter what tank size you settle on, be sure your Uromastyx can easily turn around. Typically, tanks 1.5 times as wide as your pet is long offer the most ideal and comfortable maneuvering. Additionally, you’ll want to make sure that the tank is deep enough to allow burrowing.
Uromastyx Lighting and Temperatures
To ensure your Uromastyx stays healthy, it is crucial that you create a realistic day to night shift in both temperature and visible light.
To do this, you’ll need to provide both a heat lamp that produces bright white light and a UVB bulb. As desert dwellers, Uromastyx require extreme heat and love to bask on rocks that reach well over 100 degrees Fahrenheit.
Aim for a basking spot that is between 120 and 130 degrees Fahrenheit.
However, Uromastyx will also require refuge from the heat in the form of a cool side of their enclosure. Here, the temperature should be significantly lower than that of their basking spot.
A cool side that is between 80 and 90 degrees Fahrenheit is ideal.
It is imperative that you create a realistic day to night cycle and keep their enclosure dark for 10-12 hours.
Night time temperatures should be anywhere between 70 and 80 degrees.
If the enclosure drops below 65 degrees Fahrenheit, you’ll want to consider purchasing a Ceramic Heat Emitter or CHE to help regulate the temperature during the night while lights are off.
Do Uromastyx Need Light at Night?
It is imperative that you create a realistic day to night cycle and keep their enclosure dark for 10-12 hours. This means zero lighting is required during the night.
Some people may try and tell you that a Uromastyx can benefit from a nightlight but this simply is NOT true! Additional lighting at night can actually mess with their circadian rhythm.
Perhaps not surprisingly, Uromastyx do not require high humidity at all. In fact, quite the opposite!
To keep your Uromastyx healthy, you’ll want to keep humidity low. Ideally, humidity will be between 30 and 40%.
Some tips for keeping humidity levels low…
- Remove any source of standing water (i.e. a water dish)
- Use a mesh lid to provide adequate airflow
- Avoid using wood chips or moss in the enclosure as they retain moisture well
As aforementioned, you’ll want to avoid using certain elements that can retain moisture – such as wood chips and mosses.
To best emulate the natural environment of a Uromastyx, it is recommended to use sand for their substrate. Sand allows for Uromastyx to burrow as they would in the wild.
However, you’ll want to avoid using JUST sand as a substrate as it does not accurately mimic their natural environment.
Because sand can be tricky to keep clean as waste is able to easily permeate the tiny grains. To best combat this, you’ll want to keep a kitty litter scooper nearby to remove waste on sight.
In terms of what type of sand your Uromastyx will love, you can create your own mixture by combining sterilized play sand with that of peat, soil, and/or compost.
You can also use millet for substrate if sand isn’t your thing. Millet is marketed as a bird seed and makes a great choice for those who want something simply and easy.
However, millet will require more regular cleaning. You’ll want to completely remove all millet and sanitize your Uromastyx’s enclosure at least once a month.
If you choose to forgo sand as a substrate you should STILL include a box of it that is 2-3 times the size of your lizard on the cool side of the enclosure.
A box of sand will allow your Uromastyx to still engage in natural behaviors such as digging and burrowing.
🤓 Expert Tip: By placing all food items in a bowl, you’ll be able to greatly reduce any accidental ingestion of substrate that can lead to impaction.
As natural burrowers, it shouldn’t be too surprising that Uromastyx can be quite skittish and standoffish when first getting to know new owners.
After bringing your new pet home, you’ll likely witness him or her hiding throughout much of the day. However this is totally normal behavior that is to be expected!
After a few days, you should notice your lizard become more curious, as they emerge from hides and start to show interest in their enclosure.
Basking under their heat lamp will be the first sign that your Uromastyx is settling in and beginning to feel at home.
Because Uromastyx can be quite territorial, you’ll want to make sure to NEVER house 2 males together.
You can consider housing 2 females together, but this is better suited for more experienced reptile keepers. So, if you’re new to lizards you’d be better off adopting a single Uromastyx and not a pair.
Try to give them space for at least the first two weeks. You’ll want to disturb them as little as possible. After this, try talking or singing to them on a daily basis.
If they are eating well and basking, you can try handling them slowly. However, you may want to work on forming trust first through activities like hand feeding.
Once you’re ready to picky up your Uromastyx, be sure to keep them out for no more than 20 minutes. Uromastyx can become cold quite easily even in rooms that feel warm to us humans.
If you’re looking for a pet that will love venturing out of their enclosure and exploring the world/interacting with you, better to look elsewhere. Uromastyx prefer spending their time basking under their heat lamps and hiding in burrows.
A Uromastyx is more of an observational lizard. Although most will come to tolerate handling, you’ll be limited with how long you can interact with them before they need to be under heat again.
Uromastyx Sale Price
As you can probably imagine, there will be a range in prices for Uromastyx depending on exactly what kind you get.
On average, you can purchase a standard Uromastyx for anywhere between $100 and $200. However, more colorful species, such as the Ornate Uromastyx, can set you back $300 to $500+.
In addition to these costs, you should also be prepared to spend at minimum another $200 on their enclosure to START.
Naturally, as your pet grows you’ll have to spend more money to upgrade them to a larger enclosure.
Do Uromastyx Make Good Pets?
Uromastyx can make wonderful pets for those with the space and resources to accommodate large terrariums.
Also, those looking for a medium to large lizard they can showcase and observe more than handle and interact with will also enjoy the Uromastyx.
With a plethora of different species to choose from, you’ll be able to enjoy finding the coloration and size best suited to your wants.
And if you can manage their specific husbandry needs (i.e. super high temps and low humidity) they may just be your ideal reptile pet.