Uromastyx lizards (occasionally known as spiny-tailed lizards or dab lizards) are a fairly common reptile in the pet trade. They are moderately-sized lizards with fat bodies, chubby heads and a thick spiky tail that is almost saurian in appearance. Many hobbyists make the observation that they look like a tortoise without its shell and had a dinosaur’s tail stuck on them. Their most redeeming quality is that they are very friendly reptiles that rarely (if ever) bite their owners. They are also strictly herbivorous (contrary to some early care information floating around), so one does not have to worry about feeding live prey. They are desert creatures and come in a variety of different colors.
Species Common in the Pet Trade
Uromastyx maliensis – Mali uro
Uromastyx acanthinuris nigriventris – Moroccan uro
Uromastyx aegypticus – Egyptian uro
Uromastyx geryi – Saharan uro
Uromastyx ornata – Ornate uro
Uromastyx ocellata – Sudanese uro
Species Rare in the Pet Trade
Uromastyx acanthinuris acanthinura – Algerian Leopard uro
Uromastyx flavofaciata – Banded uro
Uromastyx alfredschimdti – Ebony uro
Uromastyx hardwicki – Indian uro
Uromastyx benti benti – Orange Benti uro
Uromastyx benti pseudophilbyi? – Rainbow uro
Uromastyx mcfadyeni – Somali uro
As with many lizards, male uros will get larger than females. Males usually average around 14-16”, while females rarely grow longer than 12”. The only exception is the Egyptian Uro, which, in males, can occasionally reach a whopping 3 feet in length.
Coloration and pattern varies significantly with each species. The Ornates, Rainbows, and Sudanese Uros have intricate patterns with hues of green, yellow, blue, and orange. The Mali, Moroccan, Saharan, and Orange Bentis all can range from a lemon yellow to a bright Halloween orange-red. The Banded Uro has unique black/white bands, while the Ebony Uro is obviously a deep, black. The others mostly retain earthtones of greys, browns, and tans.
Habitat & Distribution
The Uromastyx group is native to various regions in North Africa, the Middle East, and some extending into India. They are generally found in hot, desert areas with little or no water regularly available.
Care & Husbandry
A 20g long glass tank (30x12x12”) is an adequate enclosure for raising one or two baby uros. A single adult can do fine in something the size of a 40g breeder tank (36x18x16”), while an adult pair would do better in an enclosure roughly the size of a 75g tank (48x18x20”). However, given the active nature of these lizards, the bigger the enclosure is the better.
In most cases, you want to avoid housing Uros together. Not only will males obviously be intolerant of each other, even females can sometimes be belligerent towards other females. And occasionally, even members of the opposite sex do not always get along, either. So unless you have a mixed pair that has been raised together and are accustomed to one another, don’t mix Uros in the same enclosure.
Mixing with other species (even other Uromastyx species) is even more unpredictable. The best approach is to play it safe.
Heating & Lighting
As desert lizards, Uromastyx like it really hot! In the daylight hours, an average ambient temperature in the low-mid 80s is ideal, with a basking area ranging between 110-130’F. Specifically, the actual basking surface (either a flat rock or driftwood) should be this temperature, not the air temperature. The lights should be left on for approximately 10 hrs a day, and nighttime temps can drop to the mid-70s.
WE like to recommend one of several Mercury Vapor Bulbs (MVBs) that are available from reptile suppliers. These bulbs may be costly (usually $50 retail), but the beauty is that, unlike any other reptile bulb on the market, MVBs really are actually two-in-one bulbs, providing both UVB radiation (which Uros do require) and the necessary amount of heat for most set-ups.
If you choose not to use a MVB, then you can heat your uros with any incandescent basking bulb made for herps that provides the necessary temps (you may have experiment with various wattages). UV lighting can be provided via traditional florescent fixtures with a UV bulb made for reptiles.
Whichever form of UV lighting you choose, be sure to replace your bulbs every 6-8 months, as they lose their UV output ability over time. There is controversy whether or not this applies to MVBs, as it is reported that they still retain their UV output as long as they function, contrary to what their packaging says. Regardless, it may be safer to err on the side of caution.
One final note:
Do NOT use heat rocks! These artificial stones are electrically powered, and sometimes malfunction, causing the rock to get too hot and potentially burn your lizards. Placing a real rock/stone directly under the basking lamp and letting it warm-up under an overhead heat source is a more natural way of letting your uros get warm without putting them in danger.
Being desert reptiles, Uromastyx do fine on any dry, loose substrate. However, keep in mind that these lizards do like to dig and burrow, and not every reptile substrate meets that need. WE suggest a mixture of fine-grade sand, and topsoil. This simulates their natural habitat effectively and allows them to dig fairly easily. Sand alone is fine as well, but doesn’t allow digging as easily as the mixture does.
Other acceptable substrates are aspen shavings (cheap & utilitarian, but not natural), Bed-a-Beast, or high-quality bird seed (mostly millet).
Substrates to avoid are ground corncob and ground walnut shells. Both are indigestible to lizards and with their jagged edges, can easily tear the digestive tract, resulting in death (many necropsies have been done and support this).
Above anything else, be sure to provide a cozy hiding shelter for your uros. In fact, they would be even more happy if they had two shelters; one in the warm area of their enclosure, and another on the cool end.
Since uros are not avid climbers, the only other piece of cage furniture we recommend is having a real flat rock or stone (aforementioned in Heating/lighting) placed directly under your basking lamp. You will find that your uros will use this rock to bask very regularly. In fact, if the cage’s size allows, having multiple flat rocks of various heights under the lamp will allow the lizard to more easily thermoregulate by simply moving a little closer or farther away from the heat source.
Feeding & Watering
As mentioned earlier, Uros are strict herbivores, and do not require any animal/insect matter in their diet. The occasional appropriately-sized crickets are fine, but generally not recommended, and again, completely unnecessary.
When shopping for food for your uros, you’re more likely to find most of the right stuff in your local super market, and not in a pet store. A good diet for Uros is one of several forms of pre-mixed salads. Be careful to avoid vegetables like broccoli, spinach, cucumber, etc. that actually bind calcium inside the lizard’s gut and inhibit its ability to absorb it. We like to use either the Baby Greens or Spring Mix from Earthbound Farm© (this particular mix is organic, and shouldn’t require additional washing before serving. However, if you use other salad mixes, you will want to wash them). Since there are few (if any) commercial diets made specifically for uros, any commercial diet made especially for tortoises [Mazuri Tortoise pellets are a good choice] can make a good supplement, although fresh vegetables still should be the bulk of the diet (and cheaper one as well!).
A good supplement to accompany the salad mix is beans! Almost any mixture of dry beans diced up to a near-powder form works fine. We use HamBeens© 15 Bean Soup mix, and usually leave the powdered beans in the lizards’ enclosure 24/7. They will periodically snack on the beans throughout all hours of the day.
Other little treats can include the blooms of: dandelions, clovers, Hibiscus flowers, nasturtium, viola and fresh alfalfa. Although not completely necessary with a correct diet and ideal lighting, the occasional sprinkling of vitamin D powder for reptiles onto the salad mix doesn’t hurt.
Adapted to such a harsh, dry & hot region, uros are able to obtain all the water they need from their food, and do not require a water bowl present in their cage. However, on occasion (especially for younger animals and females that have just laid eggs), it is permissible to soak your uros in a tub of very shallow, warm water. This can be done every few months, but is rarely necessary, so don’t fret if you find that you’ve skipped a few months!
Uromastyx can be somewhat tricky to breed in captivity. First of all, uros need to be brumated (the reptilian equivalent to hibernation) for a few months. Then, the challenge is having an ideal substrate for the female to dig and lay her eggs in, so she does not scatter them all around the enclosure to dry out. If that hurdle is overcome, the difficulty is getting to the eggs in time and incubating them at the right temperature, a stressful and frustrating feat if one is not prepared for it.
Regardless of the success of hatching the eggs out into cute baby uros, the process is very stressful for the female. Many females rapidly lose body weight and calcium levels after being gravid, and if the correct adjustments to their diet are not made, the ordeal can be fatal.
– Deer Fern Farms, arguably the best source for detailed information on Uromastyx, including captive-breeding, as well as profiles/pics on all the individual species of Uromastyx:: http://www.deerfernfarms.com