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How to Care for Your Uromastyx

How to Care for Your Uromastyx

Uromastyx (Uromastyx sp.) are a group of diurnal, terrestrial lizards widespread across North Africa and the Middle East. They are usually found in desert habitats with plenty of rocks and crevices for hiding, and enough vegetation to support their herbivorous diet. Uromastyx are also known as “spiny-tailed lizards” and “mastigures”.

Uromastyx are stout lizards with a large abdomen, thick spiked tail, sturdy limbs, rounded heads, and bulging cheeks. The shape and length of the tail varies according to the species in question. Color and pattern also vary widely, as this species can be found in various combinations of red, orange, yellow, green, blue, tan, brown, black, and/or white, with males generally being more colorful than females.

There are 20 different Uromastyx species and subspecies, with many being in the pet trade, but not all:

  • acanthinura
  • aegyptia aegyptia
  • aegyptia leptieni
  • aegyptia microlepsis
  • alfredschmidti
  • benti
  • dispar dispar
  • dispar flavifasciata
  • dispar maliensis
  • geyri
  • macfadyeni
  • nigriventris
  • occidentalis
  • ocellata
  • ornata ornata
  • ornata philbyi
  • princeps
  • thomasi
  • yemenensis

  • Uromastyx are becoming increasingly popular reptile pets because of their size, coloring, and relatively tame, personable dispositions. Due to their size, equipment needs, and lifespan, these are intermediate-level pet reptiles. With good care, they can live as long as 25 years!

    How much space do uromastyx need?

    Uromastyx vary widely in size, but most can be housed in a minimum 4’L x 2’W x 2’H enclosure (120 gallons). However, for species longer than 20”, you will need a 6’L x 3’L x 3’H enclosure or larger. In both cases, if you can provide a larger enclosure, do it! Providing a larger enclosure will provide your pet with more opportunities to exercise, explore, and demonstrate natural behaviors.

    Housing multiple uromastyx in the same enclosure is not recommended.

    Do uromastyx need UVB?

    Yes! All uromastyx are diurnal, which means that they are most active during the day, and naturally exposed to lots of sunlight on a day-to-day basis. This means that they need UVB light as part of their enclosure. The best UVB bulbs for uromastyx are:

    • Zoo Med Reptisun T5 HO 10.0
    • Arcadia Desert 12%

    The bulb should be half the length of the enclosure and mounted on the warm side of the setup. Use a high-quality reflective T5 HO fixture for the bulb, such as Arcadia or Vivarium Electronics. If the UVB is mounted over mesh, place the basking area so the lizard’s back will be 8-12” below the lamp. If the UVB is mounted inside the enclosure, place the basking area so the lizard’s back will be 14-16” below the lamp.

    The above UVB bulbs must be replaced every 12 months in order to remain effective.

    In addition to UVB, since uromastyx are “sun-worshipping” lizards, it’s strongly recommended to provide an additional daylight-spectrum lamp to make sure the enclosure is brightly illuminated. Use a strong 6500K LED plant grow light for best results, long enough to cover at least most of the enclosure.

    Generally speaking, uromastyx should get 11 hours of light per day during winter and 13 hours of light per day during summer. This simulates natural seasonal changes in day length and encourages healthier hormonal rhythms.

    What basking temperatures do uromastyx need?

    Uromastyx like it hot! They should have a basking surface temperature between 120-130°F, with cool side temperatures down to 85°F. Nighttime temperatures should be between 68-80°F, which can usually be accomplished by turning off the heat source. Measure your temperatures with a digital probe thermometer with the probe placed on the desired surface. 

    Provide heat for your uromastyx by imitating the sun with at least two halogen heat lamps clustered on one side of the enclosure to create an evenly-heated basking spot large enough for the uromastyx’s whole body. Do not use ceramic heat emitters (CHEs), heat mats, red bulbs, or blue bulbs, as these are not as effective. For best results, the basking surface itself should be a large, flat piece of rock.

    As part of their seasonal cycle, some uromastyx may need to brumate (the reptile version of hibernation) or a period of cooler temperatures during winter. This helps regulate their hormonal cycle, boost overall health, and is likely to increase longevity. 

    What humidity levels do uromastyx need?

    Uromastyx are a truly arid species that don’t need much in the way of enclosure humidity, and too much humidity can harm them. Target average ambient humidity levels below 30%. Certain more coastal species such as U. yemenensis prefer humidity up to 50%.

    However, they do benefit from access to a humid burrow. A good way to do this is to simply moisten the substrate below/inside one of their hideouts.

    What substrate is good for uromastyx?

    Substrate covers the floor of your lizard’s terrarium and helps make the enclosure more attractive, but it also helps maintain desired humidity levels and provides something for your uromastyx to dig around in.

    It’s ideal to use a substrate that imitates the “substrate” that the reptile naturally lives on in the wild. For uromastyx, that means sand or sandy soil. We recommend the following substrates for uromastyx:

    Substrate should be at least 4” deep (preferably deeper) and completely replaced every 3-4 months. Remove poop and urates daily, along with contaminated substrate.

    What décor can you use in a uromastyx terrarium?

    A bare enclosure is a boring enclosure, and although size matters, if there’s nothing inside it, it won’t do much for your uromastyx. Enrichment items that help simulate the reptile’s natural habitat help prevent stress and encourage your uromastyx to exercise natural behaviors.

    At bare minimum, you will need at least one cave/burrow for the uromastyx to hide in and a flat stone for basking on. However, it’s best to include other items, such as:

    Do not use artificial plants with this species, as they may try to eat them.

    What do uromastyx eat?

    Uromastyx are herbivorous, which means that they eat plants to get the nutrition that they need. Juveniles should be able to eat their fill of greens every day, and adults should be fed 4-5x/week. Approximately 60% of their diet should be dark leafy greens, with 30% consisting of other vegetables. Seeds should be offered 1x/week.

    For a healthy, happy uromastyx, offer as much dietary variety as you can! Chop vegetables into bite-sized portions to help prevent choking.

    Leafy greens for uromastyx: collard greens, cactus pads, spring mix, arugula, kale, alfalfa, bok choy, carrot greens, spinach, dandelion greens, hibiscus greens, turnip greens, mustard greens, parsley, romaine lettuce, escarole, watercress, clover, timothy hay

    Other vegetables for uromastyx: broccoli, rapini, zucchini, cauliflower, sweet potato, bell pepper, squash, carrots, okra, sprouts, peas, green beans, shredded carrots

    Seed options for uromastyx: lentils, white millet, finch seed mix

    Due to its high sugar content, fruit should be used only as a treat. Options include berries, mango, cantaloupe, apple, banana, and papaya. Edible flowers such as dandelion and nasturtium can also be offered.

    Supplements

    You will also need calcium and vitamin supplements to prevent your lizard from developing a deficiency. We recommend Repashy SuperVeggie, lightly dusted on all salads.

    Water

    Although uromastyx are desert reptiles and get most of their water from their food, they still need access to fresh water. As long as the enclosure is well-ventilated, this will not cause humidity problems. Provide a small water bowl 2-3x/week. Keep the water clean and scrub the bowl with a reptile-safe disinfectant weekly, or whenever it becomes soiled.

    Do uromastyx like to be handled?

    Few reptiles actually “like” to be held, but uromastyx usually learn to tolerate it well, especially individuals that were bred in captivity. Don’t grab the lizard from above — instead, approach from the side and scoop from below. Support as much of its body as possible, especially its feet. Start with very short handling sessions in the beginning, then gradually make them longer as your pet becomes more accustomed to you. 

    Regular hand-feeding via feeding tweezers or even your fingers is a great way to start building trust.


    *This care sheet contains only very basic information. Although it’s a good introduction, please do further research with high-quality sources to obtain additional information on caring for this species.

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