Erica Mede, CVT
Photos by Susan Horton, DVM
Uromastyx are also called Dab lizards, Spiny Tailed lizards, Uros, and Agamids. These medium sized herbivores are quickly gaining popularity in the pet trade due to their unique appearance and interesting diet. There are 13 different species of Uromastyx, but only six species are currently kept. Uromastyx aegypticus (Egyptian uromastyx) and U. ornatus (Ornate uromastyx) are two of the most commonly kept in the United States .
Egyptian uromastyx are the largest of the species reaching 25-30 inches in length from the tip of the head to the tip of the tail. This species has a light to dark brown coloration. Ornate uromastyx reach an average size of 10-18 inches with various browns, yellows, orange, green or blue coloration. All of species have a bulky body and a characteristic triangular shaped head. The iconic spiny tail has between 10 and 30 rows of spiked scales on top of the tail. This lizard is not capable of “dropping” its tail. These lizards generally live for 15-20 years and reach adult size by four years old.
Uros are found through out the arid regions of north western India down to the Sahara in Africa . They are naturally occurring in rocky outcrops and burrow several feet below the surface during the hottest portions of the day to decrease body temperature as well as increase humidity. This is a diurnal species of lizard that is best kept in an environment that simulates the hot, arid, and bright environment they would naturally be found in.
Feeding and Diet
Uros are strict herbivores. There is always debate in the reptile community whether or not to offer a few insects every now and then but there has been no proven benefit to this practice. In the wild, these animals relish vegetation and ingestion of insects is accidental. Dark leafy greens such as dandelion greens, turnip greens, mustard greens, spring mix, etc, should be offered once a day. Shredded yellow, orange, and red vegetables can be added as well. Uromastyx are unique in their preference for small seeds such as millet and lentils. Lentils are easily sprouted using a damp wash cloth. Dry lentils can be offered as well and are generally eaten with equal enthusiasm.
Some owners opt to feed a pellet based diet in addition to the dark leafy greens. Excellent choices to feed are Mazuri tortoise, grass land tortoise pellet, and iguana pellet. Pellet diets should not be the bulk of the diet and should be offered 1-2 times a week. All Uros should have their meals dusted with a calcium supplement and a multi-vitamin supplement used once to twice a week.
This species does not drink large amounts of water. Greens should be offered after soaking or heavy misting with water to ensure proper hydration.
These lizards are terrestrial although they can climb low level branches. Uromastyx are diggers by nature and if given the chance will dig several feet down. This species is extremely active and will require large amounts of floor space. Hatchlings can be easily housed in a 20 gallon aquarium or enclosure of a similar size although they will quickly require larger accommodations. As Uros grow they will need a 40 gallon breeder tank or larger (keeping in mind floor space is important) or a custom enclosure. It is recommended to create a custom enclosure, especially for the Egyptian uromastyx that offers more space for these larger lizards and can handle the high heat. It is highly recommended to offer an enclosure that is roughly 5-6 feet long, 2 feet wide, and 2 feet tall for adults. Uromastyx require space to roam and sprawl out. Make sure that all enclosures are sturdy and escape proof. Enclosures will also need to withstand intense heat as well. Various levels created using rocks and branches will help the lizard utilize all potential space and provide enrichment.
There are numerous substrates to offer in enclosures ranging from complicated naturalistic set-ups to simplistic newspaper. Newspaper, although unattractive to look at, is easily cleaned out and Uros genuinely seem to appreciate hiding under the layers of paper. Butcher paper can be used as a uniform color alternative. Since Uros enjoy burrowing and will spend most of their time hidden under the substrate if allowed, they seem to benefit from the addition of dig boxes. Dig boxes are designated areas or enclosed sections of top soil that can go as much as 2 feet deep! These boxes allow the Uromastyx to fulfill natural desires to dig as well as offer another form of enrichment. The dig box should be on the cooler end.
If particulate substrate is desired, millet is best. This allows for digging, ease of cleaning, and is edible. However, if the lizard focuses on eating only the millet and not its regular diet, a change in substrate will need to be made.
Dr. Horton does prefer to have a small dish of water available at all times. This is particularly important for young uros, breeding females, and compromised or sick individuals. A shallow soaking dish should be provided. Post egg deposition females will drink gratuitously once they have laid their egg clutches. Healthy uromastyx will get most of the water they need from their diet.
UVB lighting is required not only to prevent calcium deficiencies but to simulate the bright natural habitat of these lizards. Exposure to one or two ReptiSun 10.0 bulbs is recommended for 12-14 hours a day. At night, there should be no visible lights on.
All heat sources should ideally be kept on a thermostat that allows for proper gradients while offering piece of mind to owners as well. A thermometer should be placed ideally one inch above the substrate on the cooler end of the enclosure. Another thermometer should be placed once inch above the substrate on the warmer end of the enclosure and the one last thermometer at the basking site.
Uromastyx can happily be housed in ambient temperatures ranging from 80°F to 100°F. A range of temperatures should be provided to these lizards. Ambient temperatures can easily be maintained utilizing under tank heaters, heat cable (only on the outside of the enclosure), heat tape, heat bulbs, ceramic heat emitters, and heat emitting panels. The basking site should be maintained between 105°F and 110°F ideally. At night, the enclosure should never fall below 65°F.
Too much humidity can kill this species. It is important to maintain humidity at 10-35% with a humid burrow box that reaches 40-45%.
Creativity is essential for excellent Uro keeping. Tree trunks, tree branches, and root stocks make excellent obstacles, hides, rocks, and climbing surfaces. Make sure that all climbing surfaces are more horizontally angled as they are not necessarily agile climbers especially as they get older. Dig boxes are essential for working out extra energy and allowing for natural behaviors. Although a hide box is offering a place to retreat, this is a form of enrichment as well. A hide box should be offered on the cooler side of the enclosure and can be a simple opaque container that is larger than the lizard with a tunnel of PVC or corrugated drain pipe leading to the entrance of the box. To create the entrance of the box simply cut a hole large enough for the lizard to enter into on the side that will be facing the tube or piping.
Your new uromastyx should be checked for parasites before being introduced to your existing colony and in general for it’s own well being. This is done simply by checking a fresh fecal with your veterinarian.
Your lizard should appear plump and well muscled. If you can see ribs or bones of the pelvis, this is cause for alarm. A complete physical should be performed by a reptile veterinarian. Female lizards will slow down or quit eating just before egg deposition.
Retained shed skin on the toes or the tail can also be signs of ill health. These should be gently removed after warm water soaking. If the skin seems compromised in any way, consult your reptile vet.
If you have any questions, please feel free to call us at (502) 241-4117.