A Helpful Guide to Uromastyx Care
The Uromastyx, also known as the spiny-tailed lizard, makes a great pet rivaling the bearded dragon. They’re easy to care for as long as their husbandry requirements are met. These lizards also handle easily and are very intelligent. They’re known for interacting with their keepers.
The Uromastyx continues to grow in popularity. These African lizards are in the Agama family. They’re available online, at reptile shows, and select pet shops. They’re low maintenance and easy to keep providing you have spacious enclosures.
Types of Uromastyx
Many types of Uromastyx occur in Africa. More and more subspecies are now available for sale. Some of the more popular types include the following.
- Egyptian (mostly wild-caught and the largest of the Uromastyx family)
- Saharan (these get pretty big too)
- Ornate (often captive bred and the most beautiful and sought after Uromastyx)
- Ocellated (another high-end sought after species)
- Red or yellow Niger (a popular species often available as captive-bred and wild-caught)
- Moroccan (one of the most readily available captive-bred specimens)
One of the main keys to successfully keeping the Uromastyx happy and healthy is to have the correct enclosure size. I find that these lizards need their space. One might think that since these lizards appear rather stout, they’re slow and lethargic. I find the opposite true. They’re fairly active, despite their chubby appearance.
For a single adult Uromastyx, I suggest an enclosure the size of a 40-gallon breeder tank. That’s at the very least. For hatchlings, a twenty-gallon may suffice for a short time but be ready to upgrade. An adult Uromastyx is not happy in a 20-gallon tank.
Specimens kept in such small quarters fail to thrive and it doesn’t take long to reach the point of no return. Go bigger than a 40-gallon tank if you can. If you can’t provide the correct enclosure size it’s best not to keep these lizards as pets.
Along with having the right enclosure size, it’s important not to overcrowd the tank. In the wild, these lizards keep each other in eyesight, but they don’t pile up on one another. They stay several feet apart.
If you have a pair of these lizards, make sure you have an enclosure that’s at least five to six feet in length. A pair of adults won’t be happy in a 40-gallon breeder tank. Never keep two adult males in the same enclosure no matter what the circumstances.
If the enclosure is too small, the dominant lizard will pick at the weaker one(s). That also goes for keeping two females together. They too will have issues in cramped spaces.
Can I mix subspecies?
Sometimes, but you’ll have to keep a close eye on them. Split them up at the first sign of aggression. Have an extra enclosure ready to go just in case.
Uromastyx Care Video
These lizards take water only from what they eat, specifically vegetables and fruits. This is why it’s necessary to have fresh vegetables available for your Uromastyx every day.
Don’t place a water dish in the enclosure. It’s unnecessary and could even be harmful. Water dishes also raise the humidity level in the enclosure which is also unnecessary.
What about Uromastyx shedding issues?
Heating, lighting, and humidity
The Uromastyx needs hot temperatures to thrive. Keeping your Uromastyx at the right temperature stimulates skin color and allows them to properly digest. Keeping one to cool (or damp) will kill it. Remember, these lizards are from the hottest and driest places in the world.
Keep humidity low, 30 to 35% is the range to go for. Daytime temperatures in the upper 90’s with a hot basking spot up to 110-120°F is appropriate. Use an under-the-tank heater 24/7. These lizards need it at night. Nighttime bulbs or ceramic heaters come in handy in northern territories where ambient temperatures are low, especially during winter.
Proper lighting is also vital
Provide full-spectrum lighting (UVB/UVA) for calcium absorption. These lizards are diurnal and the brighter the light, the better. I use three different domes on a 40-gallon breeder tank which hosts one adult.
In one dome I have a mercury bulb which offers heat, UVB, and UVA. In the second dome, I keep a UVA bulb which also offers heat. In the last dome, I keep a fluorescent UVB bulb which doesn’t give off heat.
This combination truly illuminates the enclosure closely mimicking the hot, bright desert sun. This also stimulates the lizard’s appetite. I also recommend an under-the-tank heat mat while altogether avoiding heat stones and hot rocks.
Have a cave or two in the enclosure
It’s also necessary to place a hide, such as a cave, for the lizard to escape the light when it wishes. In fact, it’s good to have two hides. Keep one hide at the cooler end of the tank. Place the other hide halfway over the heat mat. This is usually where they sleep and the heat helps them digest.
By keeping the hide halfway over the heat mat gives the lizard enough room for a cooler side if that’s what it prefers. This is why I always recommend having the setup complete and ready to go before buying the lizard. It’s strategic to do so.
Substrate and burrowing
Using the right substrate is particularly important when keeping the Uromastyx as pets. These lizards like to dig and burrow. They have strong legs and sharp nails for the job too. In the wild, they burrow down into the earth creating long tunnels.
These tunnels primarily act as a refuge protecting them from the elements and most would-be predators. Some keepers create these tunnels with flexible duct piping buried under the sand. A large enclosure is ultimately needed for that.
The best way to go with hatchlings is paper towels
This is primarily to avoid impaction. For adults, sterilized play-box sand or sand specifically labeled for keeping reptiles is the preferred substrate for these lizards. Crushed walnuts are a good sand substitute for desert dwelling reptiles.
I recently came across a new (to me at least) clay-based substrate specifically marketed for desert dwelling reptiles. I’ve yet to try it but apparently one can mold tunnels, caves, and whatever else your imagination comes up with. I’m guessing droppings are spot cleaned as opposed to a sand scoop/sifter.
Uromastyx diet – feeding a Uromastyx the right way
There’s some debate on whether insects are a healthy choice as part of the Uromastyx diet. Are they omnivores or herbivores? One thing is certain, they’re not strict carnivores. Never offer them insects as their main staple.
Ultimately, they’re omnivores leaning heavily towards vegetation. They do take some insects in the wild but minimally.
Sure, they readily take crickets and other moving insects placed in their enclosure. Being from the driest deserts in the world, living insects are a treat. Your safest bet, however, is to feed your Uromastyx little animal protein. Feed them bugs once a week while once a month is the better choice.
The best vegetation to feed your Uromastyx
I make a fresh shredded salad every morning for my Uromastyx along with my own breakfast. We’ll start from the bottom and work our way up. Offer fresh vegetation daily not only for their nutritional needs but also for their main source of water.
The base starts out with leafy greens such as collard, turnip, and/or mustard greens. I tend to stick with collard greens almost every day. Romaine lettuce is okay, but lower in nutrients than the other three greens. I don’t bother with it. Then, I always mix a few other things with the leafy greens.
The main staples: Collard, turnip, and/or mustard greens. (Individually or in combination)
Then add two of the following
- Sting beans
- Acorn squash, butternut squash, or sweet potato (only one starchy item)
- Snow peas
- Green peas
- Sweet peppers
- Other beans
Mix these up! Variety is good. You don’t want your Uromastyx getting tired of the same meal day after day.
Wash vegetables and fruits thoroughly cleaning them of pesticides
Fruits are also good for your Uromastyx. Offer them sparingly because they’re high in sugar. In other words, fruits aren’t a staple food. Good fruits to include in their diet (three times a week) include,
- Berries: (strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, blackberries)
- Red grapes
- Melons: (papaya, cantaloupe)
Avoid citrus fruits!
Uromastyx also eats flowers, buds, and blooms. While you can grow these flowers yourself, avoid those sold at florist shops. They’re often sprayed with chemical preservatives.
Avoid unidentified flowers.
Other important foods for your Uromastyx
Fresh lentils (from the bag, not the can): Great source of protein. You can cook them briefly or soak them in water to make them softer. I keep a dish of lentils in the enclosure at all times.
Birdseed: It might sound strange, but these lizards love birdseed and it’s good for them. I keep a dish of birdseed in the enclosure at all times.
While this is optional, I also keep a small dish of Mazuri herbivorous reptile diet in the enclosure. It’s best to mist this food with water to make it softer. While I certainly wouldn’t depend on this as a staple, it’s a good supplement.
We’re not done yet!
Feed these vegetables minimally/occasionally or avoid them altogether
This is due to the potential health issues they might cause.
- Banana (high in phosphorus)
- Brussels sprouts
- Iceberg lettuce
A quality calcium/vitamin D3 is vital. Lightly sprinkle the powder over the fresh salad a few times a week for adults or daily for hatchlings. Use a quality multivitamin made especially for herbivorous lizards weekly or depending on the product label’s directions.
Buying a Uromastyx – the difference between captive-bred, captive-born, farm-raised, and wild-caught
Your best bet when buying a Uromastyx is to get one captive-bred. That means a private breeder, usually domestically, took the time and care to produce the babies. These usually do best in captivity and are free of parasites. They’re always the most expensive specimens but it’s worth the extra money.
Captive born (CB)
The next best thing is the captive-born specimens. This means that a gravid, wild-caught female laid her clutch while in captivity. This is very similar to buying a captive bred specimen. These are often pricey. It’s my second choice when buying reptiles.
Farm-raised means they were mass-produced in Africa and imported to our country. Commonly farmed reptiles include monitor lizards, especially Savannah monitors, certain tortoises, and others.
While I prefer captive-bred, I’ve had good luck with several species of farm-raised reptiles over the years. Still, health issues sometimes arise. Farm-raised reptiles are usually cheaper.
Field collected (FC) wild-caught (WC)
Finally, as a last resort, field-collected reptiles are taken from the wild. This is a risky venture. The reptile might have a hard time acclimating to life in a terrarium. Wild-caught reptiles carry parasites of some kind. They may also have injuries.
Nevertheless, it’s important to remember that all captive bred reptiles originated from wild-caught specimens. Sometimes, wild-caught reptiles do very well in captivity. Field collected specimens are also the cheapest.
What you buy is up to you but it’s important to know what you’re getting. It helps you prepare and gives an idea of what to expect from your animal.
Cooling period (two to three months)
It’s good to have a cooling period of two to three months. This could extend the life of your Uromastyx and it also induces breeding behavior. You might find that your Uromastyx decides when it chooses to go dormant.
During this time, they won’t eat. So, if your Uromastyx goes on a hunger strike and doesn’t come out of its hide for a while, don’t panic, it’s probably just dormant. I wouldn’t bother reducing the temperature during this time. Just keep a close eye on it/them.
How to artificially induce brumation
To artificially induce brumation, gradually lower the temperature over the course of a month. Eventually, drop down to the low 70s. Keep the hot spot in the lower to mid-90s. Also, reduce feeding during this time. Offer less food than normal.
If temperatures drop too drastically, the Uromastyx won’t digest properly. This usually leads to death so I recommend keeping the under-the-tank heater on. Just lower it a few degrees with a thermostat.
Gradually reduce the length of time the lights are on during the day
This is actually referred to as reducing the photo-period. The Uromastyx might be slightly active during this time or you may not see it at all. At the end of the period, begin raising the temperatures up again over the course of a month. Also, increase the amount of time the lights are on during the day. Resume feeding as usual.
Brumation might also induce breeding activity although specimens have been known to breed without such a period.
Breeding the Uromastyx is possible but tricky. These lizards usually need a cooling period and large enclosures to induce breeding. Once that’s complete, begin feeding your Uromastyx again over the course of three or four weeks. Make sure to add extra calcium (supplement) for the female. This is for her egg follicles.
Introduce only one male to at least two females. Never keep two males in the same enclosure. This is where having a large enclosure comes into play. These lizards go through a breeding ritual. It’s important to have enough space for males to chase females around.
Males get aggressive during the breeding season
Males get aggressive during this time and not just against other males. They’re rough with the females too. By keeping at least two females in the enclosure you not only increase chances of successful breeding, but the male is less aggressive to individual females when there’s more than one.
While some species of Uromastyx are sexually dimorphic others are not. They’re sometimes sexed when males enter adulthood. They develop noticeable pores on the underside of their thighs. These pores are found horizontally above the vent.
During the gestation period
Assuming mating went well and one or more of your females are gravid, feed them extra calcium powder throughout the entire period. This takes four to six weeks. Remove the male during this time.
When laying time draws near, place a shoebox with moistened sand in the enclosure. Make sure to make a hole big enough for the lizard to easily enter and exit. Assuming all goes well, they will lay their eggs in the shoebox. Expect a dozen or so. Clutch size depends on the size and overall health of the mother.
Carefully remove the eggs
Carefully remove the eggs without tipping them over and place them in another shoebox for incubation. Gently mark the top of the egg so it doesn’t get tipped. Vermiculite is a common substrate used for incubation. I prefer using a product called Hatch-rite. I used it successfully for many clutches of collared lizards.
While one has to constantly keep vermiculite moist by adding water, Hatch-rite takes the guesswork out of it. The product holds the necessary moisture needed throughout the entire incubation period.
Incubating the eggs
There’re many methods of incubation. The best method is the one that works for you. Incubate the eggs in the lower 90’s. Be consistent and keep humidity at about 75%.
They should hatch in 50 to 70 days. Keep a close eye on the eggs removing any bad ones which turn dark yellow or begin to rot. Mold could spread to the good eggs if left together.
Caring for hatchling Uromastyx
Allow newly hatched lizards to absorb their yolk sack. Place them in a tank without adults. At this time, a 20-gallon long may suffice depending on how many babies you have. I wouldn’t keep more than six in a twenty-gallon long tank.
Use paper towels as substrate. I don’t recommend using sand at this time because of the risk of impaction. Feed the babies finely shredded greens, veggies and fruit sprinkled with calcium powder daily. Offer only fine bird seed meant for small birds. Make sure lentils, beans, and other legumes are soft and shredded so the small babies can easily eat them. Keep temperatures warm like with the adults. They should grow quickly under the right conditions.
Upgrade the size of their enclosure as they grow
They need more space as they get bigger. They can safely be kept together for a couple of months but start splitting them up when the time is right. Don’t wait for signs of aggression like biting and nipping at each other. This is a good way for these lizards to lose fingers and toes which don’t grow back. We don’t want that.
The Uromastyx is one of the best pet lizards you can have. The most important thing to remember is to keep them in an enclosure large enough for them to be happy. Also, don’t overcrowd a single tank. Overcrowding leads to stress, failure to thrive, and injuries due to the tank inhabitants biting each other.
These lizards also have specific dietary needs. While some people feed their Uromastyx insects and other bugs, I avoid them for the most part. There’s plenty of lean protein in lentils and beans to meet their needs. Offer fresh vegetables and greens every day. This not only for the sake of proper nutrition but it’s also their main water source.
Do you have valuable advice concerning Uromastyx care? What’s your experience with these great lizards? I’d love to hear from you. Add your comments in the section below!