Uromastyx

a Uromastyx laying on a rock ledge basking in the sun

Uromastyx are large lizards native to North Africa, the Middle East and parts of Asia. Uromastyx make great pets for those who love reptiles. They are very affectionate and gentle, and will enjoy having their owner near them. They are very curious, and will enjoy interacting with their owners.

Uromastyx are very unique looking. They are not venomous, and are usually kept as pets due to how different they look from other lizards. Uromastyx make great pets because they are very fun to watch. They are very easy to care for, and require little maintenance. They are very clean, and will be happy in a quiet environment. 

Uromastyx make great pets for people who enjoy reptiles. Because they are  large lizards they’ll need a spacious enclosure. You may want to consider getting a larger enclosure from the start to avoid buying multiple enclosures over their life. They are very easy to care for and maintain, and won’t need any special care once their enclosure is set up. 

A Uromastyx will cost about $100 to purchase. Because of their need for a large enclosure, the upfront costs will be quite a bit more when you factor in the enclosure and all the other equipment needed. They make great pets, but can be very expensive because of everything they need.

Uromastyx Information

  • Average Length: 10 to 30 inches
  • Average Weight: .25 to 2 pounds
  • Skin Appearance: Flat body with spiny tail
  • Skin Colors: Dark blue, green, orange, yellow
  • Grooming Needs: Low Need
  • Shedding: Once every few months
  • Sensitive to Touch: No
  • Biting Tendency: No
  • Tolerance to Heat and Cold: Yes
  • Good Pet: They allow people to hand them, so yes!
  • Safe with Children: Yes
  • Good with Other Pets: No
  • Suitable to live in an Apartment: Yes
  • Suitable for First-Time Pet Owners: No
  • Weight Gain: Normal
  • Health Concerns: Metabolic Bone Disease, Respiratory Infections and Tail Rot
  • Allergies: None
  • Average Life Span: 10 to 20 years

Physical Appearance of Uromastyx

a Uromastyx standing on a rock looking for food

There are 13 sub-species of Uromastyx all with similar physical appearances, except for different body colors. In some sub-species males will have different colors than females.

Uromastyx Ornatus is a popular sub-species kept as a pet. The males skin is a green or dark blue with patches of orange and yellow. Females have a muted appearance with brown and tan shades. Some females may have light orange or yellow shades.

The Egyptian Uromastyx skin has a dull appearance. They have a combination of tan, white and gray on their body.

Uromastyx species have darker pigmentation on their skin that lets them absorb more sun while basking. Their color can change depending on the air temperature and their own internal temperature while basking. In cooler weather their skin tends to be a duller color, but in the heat they’ll have brighter skin

Depending on the sub-species the length of Uromastyx can range between 10 to 30 inches. Males are usually larger than females. A hatchlings’ length at birth is only 3 to 4 inches long.

A unique feature of Uromastyx are their spiny tails that they use as a defense mechanism. Their tail can have up to 30 spiny scales. The spines are thick but don’t cause injury if touched. Because of their unique tails they are often called Spiny-Tailed Lizards.

In contrast to their tails, the body is flat with very small spines. Their legs are bulky and muscular. The toes are short and have claws that help them dig

Temperament of Uromastyx

These lizards seem to be skittish when introduced to a new enclosure. In the initial days after they’re brought home they may spend most of their time hiding because they take time to adapt to their new environment. Once they have adjusted to their new home they will spend much less time hiding.

a Uromastyx laying on a flat rock basking in the sun

Uromastyx are active during the day and sleep at night. They like to spend their day basking under the light, digging substrate, or relaxing inside hide boxes.

Uromastyx don’t tend to get aggressive with their family. As mentioned before they take time to adapt and you should start handling them gradually. Interacting with them regularly will let them get used to you and become receptive to regular handling.

Uromastyx can sometimes become territorial with each other, especially the males. Keeping males together may cause them to fight but females are calm and get along with each other. Keeping a male and female pair is fine, but just like with any pair kept together, at some point they’ll have babies.

Their Compatibility with Children

Uromastyx are not aggressive, don’t tend to bite and can be handled by children. Because Uromastyx are skittish, an adult should supervise children interacting with your Uromastyx until you know how they will behave with each other.

Anyone handling or touching Uromastyx should always wash their hands after being around them. Most lizards are carriers of infectious bacteria like Salmonella which can cause diarrhea, fever, and abdominal pain. Washing their hands should keep your children from contracting bacterial and fungal illnesses from your Uromastyx.

Living Space for Uromastyx

Creating an ideal living space for your Uromastyx is pretty straightforward. Uromastyx can be housed in standard reptile enclosures with front sliding doors or one that has a lid on the top. It’s important that the enclosure should be well ventilated.

If you live in a hot and dry area, your Uromastyx can be kept in outdoor enclosures. These types of enclosures can be difficult to set up and are generally only recommended for experienced reptile owners.

a Uromastyx resting on top of a large rock

Enclosure/Cage Size

Juveniles can be housed in small 20 gallon reptile enclosures or plastic containers. A 20 gallon enclosure isn’t going to hold them for too long. Over the course of 4 to 5 years they’ll need several larger enclosures.

The minimum recommended enclosure size is 5’Lx2’Wx2’H. Since these are ground-dwelling lizards, having a longer length enclosure is more important. A longer length enclosure makes it easier to create separate temperature zones inside their enclosure.

It’s also important to point out that glass is terrible at retaining heat. Because many people that will own a Uromastyx will build a custom enclosure, we recommend using plexiglass to better hold the heat inside the enclosure. It might cost you more upfront, but it will greatly reduce your long term electrical use.

Decorations

Your Uromastyx will need a basking rock that should be placed under their basking light. We recommend using slate because it’s good at retaining heat.

A few hide boxes should be added to their enclosure to create shelter spaces for your lizard. Branches can be added to make the enclosure look natural. Even though your Uromastyx doesn’t climb, by making their enclosure look more natural it should reduce their stress levels.

Substrate

The substrate should be dry and shouldn’t hold moisture. A mixture of soil/peat and sterilized play sand is a good substrate option. Sand is a good choice because it will let your Uromastyx burrow.

Don’t use moss or wood chips because these substrates retain moisture and can cause impaction if it’s ingested.

a Uromastyx looking for food in the sand

Best Climate for Uromastyx

Uromastyx are desert species that need a dry and hot climate. Their enclosure should have separate warm and hot areas. 

Temperature

The temperature on the warm side should be around 80°F to 100°F and in the basking area 120°F to 130°F. The temperature at night can be allowed to fall to around 70°F.  

A combination of direct heat-bulbs, ceramic heat emitters and under-tank heaters can be used as heat sources. Under-tank heaters are great, but they don’t bring the temperature up over 100°F. To create the heat needed for the basking area one of the heat emitting bulbs will be needed.

Lighting

The basking light should be kept on for 10 to 12 hours a day. Your Uromastyx will also need a UVB light. Place the UVB lamp in a way to cover the full enclosure and keep it on for 10 to 12 hours a day. The UVB light helps them metabolize calcium and without it, they will have health issues like Metabolic Bone Disease.

Humidity

Uromastyx cannot tolerate high humidity. The humidity levels inside their enclosure should not exceed 35 percent. If the humidity gets higher, open the vents to let air circulate. Another thing that many families will do is use a fan to pull air and moisture out of their enclosure.

Misting the enclosure should never be needed unless you live in the driest part of the country. 

Water Source

While Uromastyx stays hydrated from eating food. We still recommend keeping a small water bowl in their enclosure. 

The Attention a Uromastyx Needs

Place several thermometers and a hygrometer inside your Uromastyx’s enclosure. The thermometers should be added on both the warm and hot sides of their tank. Check the temperature and humidity levels regularly and make changes if needed. Make sure the humidity doesn’t exceed 35% or you may need to make some changes in their enclosure.

Health Issues

Metabolic Bone Disease

Metabolic Bone Disease is the most common disease found in pet reptiles. The disease is caused by your reptile not having enough vitamin D to properly absorb calcium. Being exposed to UV lighting helps them create vitamin D that they can use to absorb calcium.

 Symptoms include:

  • Lower jaw swelling 
  • Limb swelling
  • Facial bone softening
  • Loss of appetite
  • Seizures
  • Lethargy

An X-ray can help identify the extent of the disease. Sometimes MBD can lead to fractures, thin bone tissue or thickened bone shafts. The disease is more common in reptiles less than 2 years old.

If left untreated the disease can also lead to death. Consult your vet immediately if you find any of the above mentioned symptoms in your reptile.

Treatments can range from injecting your reptile with mineral supplements to medication and dietary modifications. To keep your reptiles from having MBD, they should be fed a diet rich in calcium (or calcium supplements) and have daily exposure to UV lighting.

Tail Rot

Tail rot is a condition that affects your Uromastyx caused from having too much humidity or moisture in their enclosure. If their substrate is too moist and stays in contact with their skin for too long this can also be a cause. The rot is caused by fungal or bacterial diseases that are caused from the moisture collecting in the spikes on your Uromastyx’s tail.

Symptoms of tail rot are:

  • Tail is black or patchy
  • Shed skin stuck to tail
  • Blistering on their tail

If you notice any of the above symptoms you’ll want to talk to your vet about tail rot. If it is tail rot your vet will likely prescribe antibiotics that will need to be given to your pet a few times a day.

To prevent the tail rot from coming back we recommend taking additional steps to reduce the humidity and moisture levels in their enclosure. You might want to add an extra 1 to 3 hygrometers so you can better track what parts of their enclosure are overly humid. We recommend using a small fan pointed away from their enclosure to help draw out excess moisture and humidity from the enclosure. If that still doesn’t work you may want to invest in some silica gel packets to absorb the humidity. It’s EXTREMELY important that they be placed in a way that they cannot possibly be ingested by your pet or it could kill them.

Respiratory Infections

Respiratory infections are a common health issue in reptiles. Poor enclosure conditions like excessive cold or humidity as well as stress can lead to respiratory infections or pneumonia. 

Symptoms include:

  • Nasal discharge
  • Sneezing
  • Bubbles in mouth
  • Labored breathing
  • Lethargy

Take your reptile to your vet if they have any of the above symptoms. Antibiotics are commonly used to treat the disease. If the infection is severe, they may need to be hospitalized.

Respiratory symptoms can become serious if not attended to in the initial stages. Maintaining the right temperature gradient and humidity levels inside their living enclosures can prevent your reptile from getting respiratory diseases.

Grooming and Care

Spot clean the substrate every day and change the substrate once a week.

Remove everything from the enclosure and perform a deep clean once a month.

Feeding A Uromastyx

Uromastyx love leafy greens including broccoli, collard greens, kale and turnip greens

While Uromastyx are omnivores they should be fed a plant-based diet. A high-protein diet can cause them to have health problems.

They should be fed a combination of beans, leafy green plants and vegetables. Vegetables like lentils, romaine lettuce, split peas, sweet potatoes, peas, corn, squash and white millets. A good way to feed them is to make a salad by mixing these ingredients.

They can sometimes be given mealworms and crickets as treats. Make sure these treats are not given too often because they have a lot more protein than their regular diet.

Uromastyx should be fed every day. Add calcium and vitamin supplements every 3 to 4 days in their diet.

Related Questions:

Are Uromastyx a Threatened Species?

While there are around 13 sub-species of these lizards, not all have been studied to determine if they’re threatened. Some species are classified as Near Threatened under International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). These include Schmidt’s spiny-tailed lizard and Egyptian Uromastyx.