Lizards comprising the genus Uromastyx first arrived in the US pet trade in the early 1990's. At that time only wild-collected North African and Egyptian species were available. Today they are popular pets and several of the 18 known species are bred by hobbyists. Despite the fact that Uromastyx is part of their scientific name, they are also commonly referred to by this name in the pet trade. Other common names include spiny tailed-lizard and Dabb lizard. Their popularity can be traced to their mostly herbivorous diet, relatively large size, and mild temperament. The following information is applicable to most species of Uromastyx, though differences in care do arise.
Uromastyx inhabit arid rocky grasslands and desert fringes from northwestern Africa to southwestern Asia. They are uniquely adapted to life in these harsh environments, which can be observed both in their appearance and behavior. While many species are drab shades of brown, others may exhibit bright colors or intricate patterns. While Egyptian Uromastyx may reach nearly 3 feet, most species do not exceed 12-15 inches in length.
Africa to Asia
Individuals vary greatly in behavior: many tolerate gentle handling while others require time to settle and may remain skittish. In general, Uromastyx will be much calmer if kept in large, properly-provisioned enclosures.
Setting up the Terrarium
Uromastyx should be provided with as much space as possible. Juveniles can be raised in 10-15 gallon aquariums, a single adult requires a 20-30 gallon tank, and a 55 gallon or larger enclosure will suit a pair or trio.
Large enclosures are necessary for thermoregulation. Uromastyx will move from warmer to cooler areas as needed to regulate their body temperature. This behavior is important to their health for many reasons, and is usually not possible in very small tanks. Air circulation is also important, and this can be achieved with a screen cover.
Wild Uromastyx live on mixed sand, gravel, and clay. In captivity these substrates can cause intestinal impaction if they are ingested with food. Fine sand can also irritate the eyes and lungs. These types of substrates can be used with success, but care should be taken to provide food in dishes to avoid ingestion. Tortoise pellets, wild bird seed, and millet can also be used as alternatives. These materials should be safe if consumed.
Uromastyx will burrow, but it is difficult to provide a substrate that will allow the shape of these tunnels to be maintained. Caves that are partially covered by substrate make a good replacement, though any heavy shelters should be placed directly on the bottom of the tank before substrate is added to prevent lizards from digging underneath and being crushed.
Light, Heat & Humidity
Uromastyx will not thrive without daily exposure to high levels of UVB rays. A fluorescent lamp designed for desert reptiles should be placed within roughly 12 inches of a basking site and left on for 12-14 hours per day.
Uromastyx require very hot basking temperatures of 115-120°F. This can be accomplished by using appropriately sized incandescent basking bulbs positioned over one side of the tank along with a UVB source. They must be able to move into cooler areas (85-100°F) as well. At night the temperature should be allowed to drop to approximately 75°F. If not provided with sufficient heat, a thermal gradient, and UVB radiation Uromastyx will decline rapidly in condition.
Humidity should be kept low, and the substrate must be kept dry. As Uromastyx are adapted to arid habitats, healthy specimens can obtain all the water they need from their diet. A shallow dish of water can be offered for short periods of time once per week but should not remain in the cage as it will increase humidity and spillage can dampen the enclosure.
Uromastyx wild diet consists of high fiber, low-nutrient grasses and herbaceous plants. In captivity they can be fed mustard and turnip greens, endive, dandelion, bok choy, romaine and leaf lettuce, and a small amount of squash. Kale and Swiss chard can be fed in limited amounts. Iceberg lettuce, cabbage, spinach, and broccoli should be avoided. Grassland wild bird seed can be added to the greens listed above. Hibiscus, honeysuckle, roses, other flowers, and de-spined prickly pear cactus pads can also be offered when available.
Dandelion, clover, weeds, grasses, and other native plants are also accepted. Before feeding any wild plants to your reptiles you should first rule out any toxic species or plants collected from areas that may have been sprayed with pesticides. Small feeder insects should be used only as a rare treat, or in order to tempt sick or reluctant specimens into eating.
A powdered calcium supplement should be added to most meals, and a multivitaminsmineral supplement should be provided 2-3 times per week. Adults can be fed around 5 times per week, while juveniles should be fed daily.
Daily Care and Maintenance
Check your lizard often for signs of injury or disease including missing toes, bite marks, and white or gray patches that may signify fungal infections. Uromastyx should always appear alert. Animals that seem limp and lethargic at all times are likely in poor health. Daily care includes feeding and removing waste from the enclosure.
Salmonella bacteria, commonly present in reptile and amphibian digestive tracts, can cause severe illnesses in people. Handling an animal will not cause an infection, as the bacteria must be ingested. Salmonella infections are easy to avoid via the use of proper hygiene. Wash your hands with warm, soapy water before and after handling any animal. Please speak with your family doctor or veterinarian for more tips on preventing Salmonella, or please read our care guide Cleaning and Disinfecting Recommendations for additional instructions.
When it comes to your new pet, knowledge is the best way to choose an appropriate addition to your family. Learn as much as you can about your new friend before you bring him home to ensure your pet enjoys a long, healthy life.
If you have any questions or concerns, please contact our reptile room at 717-299-5691 ext. 1240 or email@example.com.