Image Credit : Mickael Leger Photographie
Uromastyx is a genus of agamid lizard. There are 15 subspecies of Uromastyx. Like many reptiles, these lizards’ colors change according to the temperature; during cool weather they appear dull and dark but the colors become lighter in warm weather, especially when basking; the darker pigmentation allows their skin to absorb sunlight more effectively.
Their spiked tail is muscular and heavy, and can be swung at an attacker with great velocity, usually accompanied by hissing and an open-mouthed display of (small) teeth. In the picture you can see the North African Uromastyx.
- Scientific name : Uromastyx
- Distribution : Middle-east Asia, India, North Africa
- Average Size : 0.3 m (1 ft)
- Life Span : 15 years or more
- Difficulty : Intermediate
Adults should be housed in a 1.20 x 0.5 x 0.55 meters (4 x 1.65 x 1.8 feet) or larger for a pair. A 0.95 x 0.50 x 0.50 meters (3 x 1.65 x 1.65 feet) enclosure can be used for smaller species but most do best with a 1.20 meters (4 feet) length tank that allows as much room to turn around comfortably as possible. The only subspecies that needs a larger enclosure, 1.8 x 0.9 x 0.9 meters (6 x 3 x 3 feet) is the Egyptian Uromastyx which grows up to 0.9 meters (3 feet). A large size tank is necessary due to their thermoregulation requirements. Most uromastyx do best living alone, but breeders may house a single pair together. Young juveniles may be kept together but should be separated to cut down on aggression and stress.
You’ll need to provide a nesting box or “humid hide” to simulate a burrow if you choose a simple setup. This will help them regulate their humidity levels. Plastic Tupperware boxes can be used with a slightly damp sand, soil, peat moss or coco fiber mixture, topped with sphagnum moss to retain moisture. Cut a hole to allow easy access; you might want to also include PVC or flexible tubing as a tunnel into the humid hide.
A juvenile should be housed on paper towel, newsprint, or slate to avoid impaction with loose substrate such as sand, bark or soil. If you do use a natural substrate, include elevated feeding spots to minimize this risk. Adults and sub-adults can be housed similarly, or given a substrate suitable for digging a burrow. Typically, a mix of washed playsand and organic soil, coco fiber or peat moss can be used. The depth can vary depending on the size of the enclosure. Uros can dig underneath rocks and other objects, causing fatal injuries. Heavy objects should be placed on the bottom of the tank and substrate poured around them.
Lightly mist the substrate every week to make sure that the burrows provide adequate humidity that they would find in the wild. The rest of the tank must be under 30% humidity. Alternatively, you can house uromastyx on white proso millet, a common bird seed. If your Uromastyx tends to ignore his or her greens in favor of eating the seed, you can choose bare floors or butcher paper covered with slate or ceramic tiles. Tiles are very useful as they help retain heat and are easily cleaned.
Lighting – Heating
Proper heating and lighting is a crucial aspect of Uromastyx care. They love heat! Their basking spot should be at least 49 ºC (120 ºF), but the rest of the tank needs to have a temperature gradient of 28-37 ºC (100 to 85 ºF) (25-36 ºC (98 to 78 ºF) is acceptable). They must be able to thermoregulate their body temperature by migrating around their enclosure, which is why larger enclosures are best for Uromastyx. Nighttime temperature can drop into 22 ºC (71-73 ºF) or lower in winter as long as the tank warms up during the day.
Basking spots should be created with a reptile dome lamp (ceramic socket) and a high-wattage heat bulb available at home improvement stores. Use a piece of flat slate or other light-colored rock surface. Make sure that the reptile cannot touch the heat source! Adjust as necessary depending on wattage to reach 49-60 ºC (120-140 ºF) directly over the basking rock. Make sure the tank is well lit.
Uromastyx need bright light to regulate their seasonal feeding response. Check the lights and the basking spots frequently to ensure proper conditions are met. You may choose to provide a UVB light bulb to stimulate natural behaviors and provide appropriate wavelengths for Vitamin D3 production. Do you research first! Many of the current UVB bulbs on the market do not provide the optimal range of UVB conditions, and some pose a risk of eye issues like photo-kerato conjunctivitis. Otherwise, you must supplement the diet with Vitamin D3 to allow proper calcium absorption.
Most Uromastyx species do not drink water from a bowl, but get most of their hydration needs from their food. Hatchlings, newly acquired or sick animals should have a shallow jar lid or Tupperware lid of water available every other day. Shallow water only, and be careful that your uromastyx doesn’t inhale water into the lungs. Soaking is controversial, but it can be done every couple of months in very warm water if you suspect your uromastyx is dehydrated. Too high of humidity and frequent soaking can contribute to a respiratory infection (RI).
High humidity can be a killer to Uromastyx! Strive to keep the humidity in your Uromastyx enclosure under 35%, while providing a humid retreat (details below) that holds steady at roughly 50-60% humidity. This ensures they do not get dehydrated at night or during winter brumation and summer aestivation.
Uros are herbivorous and do well on a supplemented vegetarian diet. Insects are not needed and can cause more harm than good. Although hatchlings may readily take insects, an improper diet at a young age can cause Metabolic Bone Disease (MBD) so it’s recommended to stick to a plant-based feeding plan. Uromastyx “salads” should consist of dark green leafy vegetables, limiting spinach, kale, broccoli, and cabbage. You may use “spring mix” packaged greens, and add in additional helpings of shredded squash, endive, dandelion greens, thawed frozen veggie mix, cactus pads, and other safe veggies.
Edible flowers like hibiscus blooms, squash flowers and dandelion blossoms should also be offered, but limit fruits to less than 10% of the diet. Dried lentils, beans, or ground tortoise pellets can be offered in a separate feeding dish. For supplementation, ensure a calcium powder with vitamin D3 is included, especially if you do not use UVB bulbs or provide exposure to unfiltered natural sunlight. Repashy Veggie Dust and Miner-All Indoor formula can be used on alternating days, less frequently for adult Uromastyx.
Uromastyx vary greatly in their tolerance of handling and interaction. Let them come to you, and avoid picking them up from above. Place food items in your hand until they learn that you are not a threat and will approach you willingly. Some uros do not like handling even with repeated exposure. Always support the head and tail areas with your arm so they don’t fear falling. Place the lizard in your hand so you can circle you thumb and forefinger around their torso just behind the arms. Hold your thumb there to firmly but gently hold on, and support the back end and tail with your forearm. Whenever you suspect your Uromastyx is not well or not adjusting to its home, you should stop handling. Reduce handling time if you see signs of stress, hiding during the day in warm weather, and not eating.
A natural substrate only needs surface cleaning. All other substrates should be replaced when soiled. Seeds can be scooped, but a fresh layer should be provided every few months. Soap and hot water should be used on furnishings, basking rocks and slate tiles. A vinegar solution can be used to clean the glass of the tank. A stronger germ-killing cleaner may be necessary every so often if your Uromastyx gets sick. Chlorhexidine or F10 veterinary disinfectants are top choices, but 10-20% bleach and water solutions can be used if thoroughly rinsed and dried before returning the animal to the enclosure.
Like other reptiles, uromastyx shed as they grow, and are often in a state of constant shed throughout the warm season. Sometimes they look like half-peeled bananas. It’s best to not pull off their skin unless it’s restricting their circulation around their wrists or toes.
Potential Health Problems
Metabolic Bone Disease (MBD) or Nutritional Secondary Hyperparathyroidism is a very common problem due to improper nutrition, especially calcium deficiency. When the right balance of nutrients is not attained in the diet, calcium is pulled from the bones to provide this crucial mineral for a variety of bodily functions. Signs of MBD include soft jaws, disfigured spine, swollen limbs, shaking and general signs of ill health. Internally, lack of calcium, results in loss of muscle control and of liver, kidney and nerve function. Severe cases result in death. Over-supplementation with calcium is rare but possible, and too much supplementation can lead to other nutritional issues.
MBD is highly preventable by providing a balanced diet. Choose foods that are both high in calcium AND low in phosphorus. Watch out for excessive amounts of oxalic acid (spinach) and goitrogens (common foods in the Brassicaceae family like cabbage) and avoid insects and other animal foods. Ensure calcium absorption with Vitamin D3, either via diet supplementation or UVB bulbs or natural unfiltered sunlight exposure.
Don’t mistake the “snalt” of a Uromastyx as a sign of respiratory issues. This crystalline substance around the nose is their way of eliminating salts that are common in their diet. Simply wipe away if excessive buildup occurs around the nostrils.
Common parasites like pinworm and other nematodes can cause lethargy and runny stool. A fecal exam can help identify any issues and a vet can provide appropriate treatment. Remember that parasites are easily spread between individuals.
Keeping a Uromastyx in an enclosure that is too wet can lead to tail rot. When bacteria or fungi are kept moist in the tail spikes, this causes an infection where the tail turns dark and can fall off.
Foreign objects (small rocks, hair, wood chips, bark, sand) can form a solid mass in the digestive system and cause blockage. Signs of impaction include inability to defecate, or straining to go, and passing thin feces. Signs include lethargy and reduced amounts of waste in the enclosure. Soaking in warm water can help pass the blockage.
A vet visit will be necessary after a few days of impactions, as they can be fatal. Foods high in moisture and free from dirt reduce risk. Improper substrates, especially crushed walnut shell and calci-sand also cause impactions.
Always be ready to take your Uromastyx to the vet if the reptile is ill, as many issues, such as parasites, skin and respiratory infections are easily treated with medication.
The information contained in this care sheet reflect the opinions and methods of the mentioned breeder, based on their expertise and long-established experience.