Also known as spiny-tailed lizards, uromastyx, or agamids, come from Africa, specifically Nigeria. The name comes from a Greek description of their appearance: “oura” for tail and “mastigo” for scourge or whip. They often come in red and yellow varieties.
Availability, Size and Lifespan
Uromastyxs are imported to the U.S. but are becoming popular with breeders, as captive-hatched ones make excellent pets. Unfortunately, many species are no longer imported due to political situations. Also, the uromastyx’s difficulty of breeding and their rising popularity keeps the prices higher than other lizards. They are often available online or from pet stores and breeders.
An adult uromastyx can grow between six to 12 inches in length. A well-cared-for lizard can live up to 10 years.
Help your uromastyx feel secure and enjoy their burrowing nature by setting up a couple of shelters throughout their enclosure. Hiding places can include caves, boxes, wooden branches or roots, plastic pipes or clay flowerpots. Make sure that the shelters and hides are set up at the enclosure’s cooler area away from the intense heat and are large enough for the lizard to fits its whole body.
Keep your uromastyx in an enclosure that is longer than its total length. This will allow it to thermoregulate its body temperature. Also, these lizards are highly active, so they need a lot of floor space.
Hatchlings should be kept in a 20-gallon aquarium, while adults need a 40-gallon tank or larger. Consider using a four-foot-long reptile cage with front opening doors, which will make it easier for you to interact with your spiny-tailed lizard.
Uromastyx prefer rocky habitats and like to wedge themselves into crevices; some also enjoy climbing. Build up the vertical space by creating layers of rocks and branches. Make sure the enclosure’s décor is sturdy, as they like to sprawl out and bask.
Lighting and Temperature
Since uromastyxs come from desert habitats, they are accustomed to hot, dry environments. Set up a basking area with a daytime high of 120 degrees Fahrenheit. The rest of the enclosure should be about 80 to 90 degrees.
Your uromastyx must have the ability to escape the heat when needed; a cool side hide can help with this. Nighttime temperatures should drop to the 60s or 70s.
Use a desert UVB bulb (10.0 or higher), since UVB ray absorption is critical to the lizard’s health.
The critical detail to remember when selecting a substrate is dryness. Uromastyxs come from warm, dry climates, so humidity or damp substrate can result in health issues, such as tail rot.
Use a quarter-inch layer of small birdseed as the substrate. Birdseed can be a regular part of the diet without the risk of impaction. Please note that dehydration, lack of appetite and constipation are tell-tale signs of impaction and require a trip to the vet.
Avoid aspen, sands and crushed walnut shells; these substrates may present a choking hazard, cause corneal scratches or result in intestinal difficulties. Also avoid dusty substrates.
Some sources claim that feeding uromastyx mainly insects can result in fantastic growth. However, there is increasing evidence showing that this high-protein diet can result in fatal health problems. If you uromastyx does accept insects as food, it should only be a small portion and not a substantial part of the diet. Feed your lizard a 90% plant-based diet and 10% insects.
A healthy diet can contain a mixture of leafy greens (romaine lettuce, bok choy, collard greens, mustard greens, turnip greens) and vegetables (carrots, peas, squash, zucchini, shredded sweet potato). Legumes, grains, seeds and flowers are also great options for a varied diet. Serve the greens after soaking or misting them to make sure your uromastyx gets properly hydrated.
Sprinkle a mix of one-part calcium and two-parts reptile vitamins on every third of fourth meal. Without proper diet and vitamin/mineral supplementation, healthy issues, such as stunted growth or metabolic bone disease, can occur. It can also lead to disfigurement.
Some people also provide pellet food, such as iguana pellets, grassland tortoise pellets or Mazuri tortoise pellets. Offer the pellets only once a twice a week to add variety.
For new uromastyx, handfeed peas and mealworms to get the lizard used to your presence and sense and build up trust. Also, pea fiber helps remove any internal parasites, while the added protein from the mealworms can help them recover from any long trips.
In nature, uromastyx get most of their water from food sources. For captive uromastyx, keep a shallow water dish available in the enclosure. All water must be either dechlorinated or purified before serving.
Young, sick and breeding uromastyx drink more than healthy, non-breeding adults.
When your uromastyx drinks, keep an eye on them; some get excited in water and run the risk of asphyxiation. Also, lengthy bouts of soaking or overly high humidity can lead to respiratory infections. Maintain humidity at 10 to 35% with a burrow box that can reach 45% humidity.
Uromastyx Handling and Temperament
In general, uromastyx are docile and able to transition well to living with people. Happy uromastyxs seek out attention when they feel affectionate.
Opposite-sex uromastyx should be able to cohabitate well, but same-sex ones should be housed separately. Juveniles can be housed together in small groups.
While uromastyx are generally straightforward with their care requirements, wild-caught ones may be more care-intensive and pose a challenge to people unfamiliar with caring for reptiles. Slow movements and gentle handling are always important, even after your uromastyx and you become friends.