Uromastyx General Reptile Care Guide
|(Uromastyx sp.) Difficulty: Intermediate
Uromastyx (also known as spiny-tailed lizards or mastigures) are a group of 10-36” / 25-91cm lizards with round heads, bulging cheeks, round bellies, and a heavily spiked tail of variable length. Color and pattern vary by sex and species, from tan or gray to bright blue and green.
Pistachio- U. Geyri Kasey D'Amico 1
There are approximately 20 different Uromastyx species and subspecies. Uromastyx dispar maliensis, U. geyri, and U. ornata ornata are the most common in the U.S. pet trade. Others are also available, but they are more likely to be wild-caught.
These lizards are native to north Africa and the Middle East. They are true heat-lovers and can be found out basking even during the hottest part of the day. They are true terrestrial lizards, skilled at climbing rock stacks and burrowing.
If you pay attention to providing high-quality uromastyx care, they can live for over 25 years, and quite possibly up to 60. Some species are more tolerant of humans than others, but once you get their husbandry right, they can make delightful pets.
- 4'x2'x2' Meridian Wood Panel Reptile Enclosure or 4'x2'x2' Meridian PVC Panel Reptile Enclosure
- dome heat lamp
- 2x 100w halogen flood heat bulb (white)
- plug-in lamp dimmer
- infrared thermometer
- digital thermometer/hygrometer with a probe
- 22-24” UVB bulb and fixture
- LED plant grow light(s)
- live potted plant(s)
- zip ties
- plug-in outlet timer
- Zen Cave or Zen Corner Cave
- food and water dishes
- bee pollen granules
Although uromastyx lizards vary widely in size, a good rule of thumb is to plan for no smaller than a 4’L x 2’W x 2’H / 1.2 x 0.6 x 0.6m enclosure. Particularly large species, however, such as U. aegyptia, will need something much larger — at least 6’x3’x3′. I generally calculate the minimum recommended enclosure size for lizards with the following formula:
- Length = 4 times SVL
- Width = 2 times SVL
- Height = 2 times SVL, no less than 18″ / 46cm
(SVL = snout-to-vent length. If you don’t know the average adult SVL for your species, choosing an enclosure that is at least twice as long as the total length and at least once as wide/tall can work as a rough starting point.)
The enclosure should be front-opening for easy access, with excellent ventilation. Ideally, the top should be mesh rather than solid. And of course, bigger is always better!
Can multiple uromastyx be housed together in the same enclosure?
Possibly. Most species of uromastyx can be housed in pairs or small harems with one male and multiple females. However, you must be willing to buy/build an enclosure that is at least double the recommended minimum size. Furthermore, there’s no guarantee that the individuals will get along.
In other words, it’s best to stick to one lizard per enclosure. Don’t worry, they like to live alone, too.
Lighting, Temperatures & Humidity
Uromastyx are diurnal, which means that they are most active during the day. This also means that they are stimulated by the presence of bright white light in their environment, and they require strong, high-quality UVB lighting for survival.
UVB lighting can be tricky because, to get the right strength of UVB (UV Index, or UVI), distance and potential mesh obstruction must be considered. To provide appropriate UVB to a sun-loving uromastyx, use a bulb, roughly half the length of the enclosure and placed on the warm side. The bulb should be mounted in a reflective T5 HO fixture.
The basking area should be placed to put the uromastyx’s back at the appropriate distance:
- UVB mounted over mesh: 8-13” below UVB lamp
- UVB mounted under mesh: 14-20” below UVB lamp
(These recommendations are approximations based on available data. For best results, use a Solarmeter 6.5 to determine the best placement to achieve a UVI of 4.0-6.0 in the basking area.)
Bright light with a color temperature of around 6500K is strongly correlated with optimal mental and physical health in uromastyx. Uromastyx with additional “daylight” lighting in their enclosure are markedly more alert and active than those without, as well as demonstrating better appetite and more natural behaviors.
Full-spectrum lighting is not the same as reptile UVB lighting, so you will need two separate lamps. You will need one long enough to span at least most of the enclosure, or multiple lamps.
Humans are warm-blooded, which means that our body temperature is automatically regulated. Uromastyx, however, are cold-blooded, which means that they have to move between areas of different temperatures to regulate their body temperature. Uromastyx warm up by basking under the sun in the wild. In captivity, they do best with a halogen heat lamp as a heat source.
- Basking surface temperature: 120-130°F (49-55°C)
- Cool zone temperature: ~85°F (29°C)
100w PAR38 halogen flood bulbs should be plenty to achieve those basking temperatures if you build up the basking platform to be about 10-12” below the heat lamp. However, if you notice that they’re getting too hot, dial it down with a plug-in lamp dimmer or reduce the height of the platform. If your basking area is too cool, you will need higher wattage bulbs.
I strongly recommend constructing a special type of basking platform for your uromastyx called a Retes stack. This is a stack of flat wood or stone pieces with spacers in between to create secure crevices where your pet can feel secure while also choosing the exact temperature it wants to bask at.
To measure the basking surface temperature, use an infrared thermometer (a.k.a. temperature gun). To passively track basking temperature, use a digital probe thermometer, with the probe placed on the basking surface under the heat source.
Uromastyx require very low ambient humidity levels — around 20-30%, as measured by a digital probe hygrometer with the probe placed on the ground on the cool side of the enclosure. Humidity levels that are consistently higher than that can make your uromastyx sick!
However, uromastyx do benefit from having access to some kind of humid “burrow” in their enclosure. This is usually a burrow they’ve dug out for themselves in the substrate, so it’s advisable to periodically add water to the substrate to help prevent burrows from collapsing and make sure the burrows maintain healthy humidity levels. The top 1” or so of the substrate should always be dry, however.
NOTE: Certain coastal Uromastyx species prefer more humid conditions than average. U. yemenensis needs an average humidity of around 50%, and U. macfadyeni needs it to be around 30-35%. Occasional nighttime misting may be appreciated by these species.
Uromastyx are healthiest and happiest when they are housed on a substrate (a.k.a. “bedding”) that imitates the conditions of their natural habitat. In northern Africa and the Middle East, that habitat is typically sand or very sandy soil. So the substrate in your uromastyx’s enclosure should be fine sand or sandy soil, packed at least 4” deep — preferably deeper, if at all possible. In a 4x2x2 enclosure, that takes at least 2.5 cubic ft of substrate.
Feces and urates should be removed daily, and the contaminated substrate should be scooped out and replaced. The substrate should be completely replaced once every 3-4 months.
Sick or wounded uromastyx should not be kept on a loose substrate. Instead, use paper towels.
Decorating the Terrarium
Decorations play an important role in your uromastyx’s enclosure as environmental enrichment. Enrichment items encourage exercise, stimulate your pet’s natural instincts, and help promote overall wellbeing. And, of course, they make the enclosure look nice!
Here are some ideas. You don’t need all of these things, but you do need enough of them to provide plenty of places to hide and opportunities to climb/explore.
- cork hollows
- cork flats
- cholla wood
- ghost wood
- grape wood
- drought-tolerant, nontoxic live plants
- magnetic ledges
Clementine- U. Geyri Kasey D'Amico 1
Feeding Your Uromastyx
Uromastyx are true herbivores, which means that they need an entirely plant-based diet to get the nutrition that their bodies need. The key to providing a healthy, balanced diet for your uromastyx is VARIETY! Here is a quick list of safe, nutritious vegetables to get you started:
- collard greens
- cactus pad
- spring mix
- pea shoots
- bok choy
- carrot greens
- dandelion greens
- hibiscus leaves
- clover sprouts
How often uromastyx need to eat depends on age:
- Juveniles — As much as they can eat, daily
- Adults — 4-5x a week
To ensure that your uromastyx is getting all of the vitamins and minerals that they need, you will need a calcium powder and a multivitamin powder. For best results, use as directed by the manufacturer.
Also, add a pinch of organic bee pollen powder or granules to your pet’s salad once a week.
Uromastyx generally tame down well, but it’s important to remember that each is its own individual, and some tame faster than others, while some never become tame at all. This may take a while, so be patient! Captive-bred uromastyx are likely to be more tameable than wild-caught individuals, and juveniles are generally much more skittish than adults.
- After bringing your uromastyx home, leave it alone for 2 weeks or so to settle in. If your new pet hasn’t eaten by the time the 2 weeks are over, do not handle it and make an appointment with an experienced reptile vet.
- Introduce yourself with food via your fingers or soft-tipped feeding tongs. Meanwhile, make sure to get your hands in the enclosure daily for spot cleaning, water changes, etc. This will help get the dragon further used to you.
- Once your uromastyx regularly takes food from your hand, encourage it to climb onto your hand. For example, place the food so it has to climb onto you to get it.
To pick up your uromastyx, always gently scoop it up from below and support as much of its body as possible. Never approach quickly or from above, as this is predatory behavior that will scare your pet. As you handle your uromastyx, keep your movements slow, and only loosely restrain it (if at all). “Treadmilling” it from one hand to the other can help it work off nervous energy.
Care information courtesy of ReptiFiles.
Need to rehome your pet?
Don't let it loose! Remember - it is NEVER okay to release animals. Many pets released into the wild are unable to survive. If your pet does survive, it can become an invasive species that can be harmful to native wildlife, the environment, and the economy. If you are no longer able to care for your pet, you can reach out to friends, retirement communities, local shelters, or visit https://www.dontletitloose.com/rehoming-a-pet/ to find a rehoming partner near you.