Uromastyx (malinesis, acanthinurus, aegyptius, benti, hardiwickii, ocellatus, ornatus) Care Sheet
Uromastyx, also known as spiny tail agamids or lizards and dab lizards - have approximately 19 species in their family, of which, 7 are found in captivity in the United States. These are the U. dispar. maliensis, U. acanthinurus (acanthinura), U. aegyptius (aegyptia), U. benti, U. hardiwickii, U. ocellatus (ocellata) and U. ornatus (ornata). They live in arid regions where it is dry, hot and sandy.
They derive from Northern Africa, India, Pakistan, Egypt, Yemen, Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Mauritania, Lybia, Sudan, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Arab Peninsular, Israel, Niger, Afghanistan, Mali, Tchad, Eritrea and Oman.
Estimated at 10-15 years. Healthy well taken care of specimens can live much longer.
The average size is 14-16 inches with the exception being the U. Aegyptius, which can reach up to 30 inches in size.
Uromastyx are cute lizards with short snouts, with short squatty, but muscular looking legs, smooth backs and a spiny tail. Most range in colors of browns and tans with the exception of the benit, ocellatus, and the acanthinurus. The males of these three are more vibrant in coloration with blues, greens, yellows and oranges. The females have similar colors but not as vibrant and less of the blues and greens.
A hatchling maybe kept in a 20 gallon long (30 x 12 x 12 ½) until they reach juvenile stage. They should then be moved up to a 40-gallon (36 x 18 x 17) or a 50-gallon (38 x 13 x 21). Adults should not be kept in any smaller. Uromastyx require many hide spots to make themselves feel secure. They like to burrow in to the ground, so many keepers provide hand made tunnels made of large pvc piping or dryer tubing and hide boxes.
You can also use pieces of slate, they add beauty to the enclosure and also double for a place for the uromastyx to bask, and they are great heat holders.
This is a controversial topic. Some keepers say they use play sand, which is what the Uromastyx natural habitat is made of, BUT, they tend to avoid overly sandy locales in the wild, preferring clay/sand or gravelly-loam mixes, rocky outcrops or soils better suited to holding a burrow without collapsing.
Many different types of substrates are available. All substrates have advantages and disadvantages. The selection process depends on individual likes and dislikes. Play sand is the type of substrate that is use but others include alfalfa pellets, calci-sand, river sand, indoor/outdoor carpeting, newsprint or birdseed. Play sand is cheap, clean, and easily cleaned. Play sand should be placed in the enclosure 3 to 4 inches deep as Uros tend to burrow. Alfalfa pellets are adequate for substrate and have the added benefit of being somewhat digestible. Alfalfa pellets do tend to mold if moisture is presented to the enclosure. Calci-sand is marketed as a calcium-supplemented substrate and is purported to be digestible by the manufacturer. There have been some concerns as to digestibility as there has been some instances of blockages in animals kept on Calci-sand. There are also some concerns in the herp community that the animal may ingest too much calcium this way and develop overdoses of calcium that can cause calcification of certain internal organs. River sand is a good alternative in that it is easily available and cheap. However, if some of the larger pebbles are ingested it may, in fact, cause intestinal blockages. Indoor/outdoor carpeting and newsprint are adequate substrates and easily cleaned. These, however, prevent the animals from their natural behavior of burrowing and should be used in quarantine enclosures or hospitalization enclosures as these substrates make obtaining fecal specimens easier. Birdseed (also known in Uro-circles as Jeff Fishers Urostrate) is a new idea for a substrate. As the name implies, Jeff Fisher has been researching this substrate and using it for his animals for the last year or two with no harmful effects. Jeff simply uses commercial wild birdseed that he places in his freezer for 4 to 6 hours in order to kill off any moth eggs or larvae. Word of caution when using birdseed, sometimes the uromastyx tend to eat too much of it, so checking fecal matter on a daily basis should be done.
Bed-a-Beast (shredded coconut husks) are used by some with good success, but again fecal pellets have to be removed one by one by hand and it tends to be quite dusty.
For hatchlings/juveniles under 6 inches total length we recommend bare tank bottoms or butcher's paper. Hatchlings are much more sensitive to ingesting dry, hard material so it's best to avoid the problem.
Temperature - Humidity
These lizards like it very hot. They are exothermic, meaning they do not generate the heat required for their bodily process. Basking temps should be 120-130 degrees, ambient temps 85-90 and night temps can drop down to 60-70. Humidity should be kept below 30-40% since they are desert dwellers. The proper temps are very important for food digestion. Keeping the burrows humid but not wet, and thoroughly drying the tail sections after a dip in the hot tub will help eliminate the possibility of tail rot.
Heating - Lighting
You can use a high watt light or ceramic heat emitter or both. Uromastyx require UVB, this is a must for a healthy lizard to help prevent metabolic bone disease. The UVB helps produce vitamin D3 in the skin, which enables the metabolism of calcium. The lizard cannot process calcium in bone without D3. New lights on the market are can be found which are combination basking and UVB lights. A photoperiod of 14 hours of daylight during the summer and 10-12 hours of daylight during the winter should be provided.
Behavior - Temperament
They are desert dwellers that like to burrow. They rarely climb. Often shy and retreat to their hides when they sense something coming towards their homes. They wiggle their bodies when agitated or stressed. You can keep alone or in breeding pairs. Females can be kept together but never two males. Care should be taken when housing in pairs and if aggression is observed you should separate the animals.
They can become very tame and used to handling when done consistently. Uromastyx produce what is know as snalt, this is a mixture of snot and salt and sometimes gets crusted around the nostrils when the uro sneezes. This can be cleaned with warm water and a soft rag or paper towel.
Uromastyx are Omnivorous. The majority of their diet consists of vegetables with the occasional insects as a treat. Vegetables include carrots, beans, peas, corn, mustard greens, bok choy, collard greens, parsnips, squash and dandelion flowers. You can also offer birdseed and finch pellets in to the vegetable mix. Make sure anything picked from a garden or yard is 100% pesticide and herbicide free.
Veggies not to feed would be, spinach, beet greens, Swiss chard, cabbage and limit broccoli and kale, these tend to bind important nutrients or tend to induce metabolic problems overtime. Romaine lettuce and regular lettuce provide no nutritional value. Insects include: crickets, mealworms, super worms and waxworms. Insects should be used sparingly because of their kidneys inability to process large amounts of protein. All foods should be dusted with Vitamin D3 and calcium.
A more detailed look into the Uromastyx Diet can be found here: Uromastyx Diet
Water is not required in the tank. They will get their moisture from the vegetable and the insects. Keeping water in the tank will only increase humidity. If you feel your lizard is in need of water, removed it from the enclosure and give it a warm soak in a separate container or tub. Do not make the water deep; about ¼ up the leg should be sufficient.
You can sometimes tell by coloration. Look at pictures on the web and try to find one that matches. Male malis are usually dark black with yellow spots. Females are more subdued and sand colored. However, there are "male mimic females" and "female mimic males" which happen every so often. Basically, you can't tell for sure until they try to breed.
Males also tend to have larger femoral pores on the underside of the hind legs and hemipene bulges, sometimes having a broader head, but not always 100% true. The female femoral pores are much smaller.
Breeding Behavior - Brumation
Uros will enter a period of reduced activity during the winter months. This is called brumation and is similar to, but not as complete as hibernation. They may come out only for a few minutes a day and eat very little food due to the reduced activity level.
This is completely normal and happens whether you want it to or not. In fact, brumation is required for breeding purposes in many/most reptiles to simulate conditions in the wild and result in viable sperm and eggs. You may maintain the exact same conditions in the cage as during the summer, but the lizards know. Brumation may last a month or two or three. Once the male and female have brumated and well fed after brumation, they can be introduced.
The male would bob his head dramatically and circle the females. They would press their snout into the females side and push and sometimes bite. The females would roll on their backs and the males lay on top so that their bellies were touching. Copulation was not observed during these displays of behavior.
The male would pursue the female around the cage biting her neck. When he secured a good hold on the back of her neck she stopped running and he moved his tail under hers and inserted his hemipene.
After the breeding process has taken place, gestation takes from four to six weeks. A nesting box should be provided and the male removed from the females enclosure. You can use a mixture of 50/50 sand and vermiculite or potting soil. Once the eggs are laid they should be placed into the incubator with temps at 92-93 degrees (F). Estimate time of hatching is 80-90 days. Eggs should be ½ buried and spray around the egg every couple of days, never on the egg itself.
Uromastyx Hatchling Care
You should cover the back glass with some background (desert scene or whatever) and at least initially, the two sides as well, leaving lone the front open glass. This will help prevent the Uros from excessively clawing at the glass or running face-first into the sides of the tank if spooked. Placing cage ornaments (logs etc.), along the edges will also help in this regard. Butcher paper, newspaper or paper towel should be used as a substrate.
Chop up food to bite size pieces.
Author: Mike Donkersgoed - Richard Brooks
Orange Uromastyx - © Mike Donkersgoed