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How to Set Up a Uromastyx Enclosure

How to Set Up a Uromastyx Enclosure

Are you getting a pet uromastyx? Uromastyx lizards can make great pets. However, as exotic animals, it’s important that they have an enclosure built to more or less replicate the conditions of their natural habitat. Otherwise, they can’t survive.

If you haven’t read our article “How to Care for Your Uromastyx” yet, start there. Once you’ve read that and have a basic understanding of what your pet needs from its environment, you’re ready to start setting up your uromastyx enclosure. 

Always set up a reptile enclosure well before you actually have the animal! This gives you more time to save up for the supplies you need, which in turn benefits your pet because you’re less likely to take shortcuts that may decrease its quality of care.

Step 1: Pick the Right Enclosure

There are many different types of uromastyx, but most of them don’t grow larger than 20” long. This means that it’s best to house them in an enclosure that measures at least 4’L x 2’W x 2’H, with larger being preferable. For uromastyx larger than 20” (such as the Egyptian uromastyx), you will need a 6’L x 3’L x 3’H enclosure or larger.

The enclosure can be made of wood, PVC, or plastic, but it should be front-opening and there should be a mesh top for ventilation. The mesh top is also important for easy placement of the lamps you will be using.

If the enclosure doesn’t have opaque sides, you will need to cover them with some kind of opaque material to help your uromastyx feel secure in its environment. This can be as simple as construction paper or picture backdrop, or as elaborate as a 3D background. 

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Step 2: Set Up Lighting and Heating

uromastyx lighting map

For a uromastyx, you need three types of lamps to help you replicate the effects of sunlight in their natural habitat:

  1. Heat
  2. UVB
  3. 6500K

The two heat lamps should be placed directly next to each other on the far right or left of the enclosure. The UVB lamp should be placed on the same end, very close to the heat lamps so the beams of light overlap. Then, place the 6500K on the same side, but because it’s longer than the other lamps, it will extend further along the length of the enclosure.

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Step 3: Quarantine Period

Your uromastyx will need to be quarantined for 3-6 months to make sure that it’s healthy. This involves fecal testing for parasites, administering medication as necessary, and generally monitoring the animal for concerning symptoms. It’s best to maintain fairly minimalistic conditions during this stage for easy cleaning, as having a fully set-up, naturalistic enclosure can make quarantine more of a hassle than it needs to be.

All you need equipment-wise for a quarantine setup is a basking platform at the right height, two digital thermometers, food and water dishes, paper towels for substrate, and a hideout or cave.

Make sure the basking platform elevates the uromastyx to the appropriate distance from its back to the UVB lamp for correct levels of exposure, as UVB levels get stronger closer to the bulb, and if too close or too far away, the lizard may get dangerously high or low levels of UVB. Ideally, use a stack of flagstone or wood with spacers called a Retes Stack for this purpose. 

  • Basking distance over mesh — 8-12”
  • Basking UVI — 4.0-6.0

It’s ideal to buy or uromastyx a Solarmeter 6.5 if you can to double-check your basking distance and the UVI that your lizard is being exposed to.

Use an infrared thermometer to check the surface temperatures around your enclosure. Temperatures should be as follows:

  • Basking surface temperature: 120-130°F
  • Cool zone temperature: ~85°F

If your basking temperatures are too high, now is a good time to dial them down as needed with a plug-in lamp dimmer or proportional thermostat. If you need higher basking temperatures, you will need higher-wattage heat bulbs.

You will also need a good disinfectant to maintain sterile conditions during quarantine. This can be as simple as a bleach solution (¾ cup bleach per gallon of water) or veterinary-grade disinfectants like F10SC and Clean Break.

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Step 4: Add Substrate

Once your uromastyx has passed quarantine, you can finish setting up its enclosure. While the first phase of setup was strictly practical, now you can get more creative in designing something that will not only be more functional for your pet to use, but also more attractive to look at. This starts with substrate.

Your best option for long-term substrate is going to be a fine-particle naturalistic substrate such as sand or a 60/40 sand/soil mix. You will need at least 4” of substrate for a proper digging medium, so for a 48”x24”x24” enclosure, count on at least 80 quarts or 2.7 cubic feet of substrate.

For an enclosure with different dimensions, you can calculate the amount of substrate you’ll need by multiplying the length x width to get the number of cubic inches of substrate it will take for 1” deep of substrate. Then multiply that number by the desired depth of substrate, then convert the resulting number to quarts or cubic feet, depending on the metric you need.

Step 5: Add Décor

After you’ve laid down your substrate, replace the basking platform, hide, and food/water dishes. Everything else is going to go around these staple items. This is the time to get creative! Try to more or less replicate the layout of a uromastyx’s natural habitat as you arrange the décor. You can find habitat pictures on sites like iNaturalist and Flickr.

Make sure to keep your water bowl accessible and easy to remove, and to keep some open space available for the uromastyx to run around. Uromastyx like to have readily-available places to hide, but they generally do well with a good amount of open space as well.

Rocks

Aside from using stacked flagstone or concrete pavers to create your Retes Stack basking platform, well-secured stacks of flat stones make for very functional uromastyx décor. Use cement or silicone to glue them together so they don’t collapse and accidentally crush or injure your pet!

Ledges

Magnetic ledges offer great lookout points for uromastyx to survey their surroundings, and encourage climbing. 

Wood

You don’t have to worry too much about mold in the arid environment of a uromastyx terrarium, so your options for wood are pretty broad. Mopani wood, cork bark, grape vine, cholla wood, and manzanita wood can all work. Whichever you choose, make sure the branches are large enough to support your uromastyx’s size and weight.

Plants

Plants are a great way to make a uromastyx enclosure more attractive, but because uromastyx are herbivorous, they may try to take a bite out of any plants or plant-like objects you put in the enclosure. For this reason, it’s best practice to only use nontoxic, live plants for décor.

Live plants should be kept in pots to help keep the water close to the roots, unless the enclosure is bioactive (which this article is not covering). Use drought-tolerant plants tolerant of higher ambient temperatures and moderate to high amounts of light. Some suitable options include:

  • Agave
  • Aloe
  • Carex grass
  • Elephant bush
  • Festuca grass
  • Gasteria
  • Haworthia
  • Hens and chicks (Echeveria)
  • Ice Plant
  • Jade plant (Crassula ovata)
  • Prickly pear cactus (Opuntia danicolor) (spineless)
  • Sempervivum

For more safe plant ideas, visit The Tortoise Table

Conclusion

Even after you’ve set up your uromastyx enclosure, don’t be afraid to continue to adjust the layout! Occasionally changing object placement or adding new things can stimulate your lizard to explore, and it’s always a good idea to adjust your pet’s enclosure as you continue to learn and understand uromastyx husbandry better.



"Spiny-tailed Lizard (Uromastyx maliensis)" by Jim, the Photographer is licensed under CC BY 2.0

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