Uromastyx Care Sheet, Size, Tank Setup, Diet & Overview

Uromastyx are sometimes called spiny tailed lizards and make excellent beginner lizards. In fact they are often considered one of the easier reptiles to care for.

Luckily their simple care needs do not mean they are by any means boring. They are highly intelligent and very active lizards who have a docile nature that makes them great for handling.

This exciting species is a unique alternative to the more popular bearded dragon. Their striking appearance adds a wonderful splash of color to any home.

If you are interested in learning more about uromastyx lizards then keep reading…

Uromastyx Lizard Overview

Uromastyx lizards

Uromastyx are a diverse group of lizards that come in a variety of colors and sizes.

Spiny tailed lizard is the common name for this species. They are named after the large scales which stick out from their tails. These scales or “spines” are commonly used to ward off potential predators as well as to engage in combat with rivals of the same species.

The word Uromastyx refers to a group of 15 lizards that all belong to the Agamid family. From these 15 species 6 are available in the United States as pets:

  • Ornate Spiny Tailed Lizard (ornata)
  • Egyptian Spiny Tailed Lizard (aegyptia)
  • Bell’s Dabb Lizard (acanthinura)
  • Ocellated Dabb Lizard (acellata)
  • Bent’s Spiny Tailed Lizard (benti)
  • Mali Uromastyx (maliensis)
  • Hardwicke’s Spiny Tailed Lizard (Saara hardwickii)

The Mali is considered the most widely available and popular species.

Hardwicke’s spiny tailed lizard was recently moved to the genus Saara. But given that it still looks very similar to the Uromastyx it is often sold under the name “Uromastyx hardwicki”.

Generally most live in a range extending from Northern Africa to Iran. Some species can also live at surprisingly high elevations. A good example is the Sundan which can be found at altitudes up to 2,000 meters.

No matter where they live these lizards like it hot. Most pet species need basking spots reaching ~130°F. This tolerance for extreme heat is made even more surprisingly by their ability to survive without any direct water. These lizards get all the water they need from the plants they eat.

These lizards also have a strong cultural significance in areas where they are native. In many Arabic communities they have a symbolic importance and are known as “Dabb” Lizards.

It is said that one was gifted to the prophet Muhammad as a potential food source. To this day Uromastyx are still considered a delicacy in the Arabian Peninsula.

Species Facts

  • Common Names: Spiny Tailed Lizard.
  • Scientific Name: Uromastyx.
  • Range: Northern Africa to Iran.
  • Size: 10 inches to 36 inches.
  • Color: Blue across their back with bands and spots of yellow, orange, red and white.
  • Lifespan: Anywhere from 10 to 30 years is normal.
  • Diet: Herbivores that like to eat fresh dark leafy vegetables such as turnip greens, collard greens, mustard greens, dandelion greens and cilantro.
  • Tank Size: 90-gallon long glass tank.
  • Price: $125 to $450.

Appearance

Ornate spiny tailed lizard

Uromastyx are stout, medium sized lizards that are known for their short, blunted snout and the large spines that run along their tail. However, more than anything they are known for their beautiful and vibrant colors.

Some species such as the ornate uromastyx have a large amount of blue across their back separated by lateral bands and spots of yellow, orange, red and white. These spots and bands make strikingly intricate patterns.

Other species like bell’s dabb lizard are dominated by yellow and orange colors. They also have a black criss cross pattern that creates a beautiful contrast on the rest of their backs.

Interestingly they can change color in an almost chameleon type of way. These reptiles will change color depending on the surrounding temperature.

During periods of cold these lizards will adopt a much darker color in order to absorb as much sunlight as possible. As temperatures increase their pigmentation lightens to reveal a more dramatic and vivid coloration.

Size

The Uromastyx can come in a variety of sizes which makes it easy for the keeper to select a breed that best suits their ability and space. A full grown uromastyx will range from 10 inches to 36 inches when measured from snout to tail.

Most pet species, including the Mali, grow between 16 to 18 inches.

Ocellated Dabb Lizards are the smallest and will max out at 10 inches. Bent’s Spiny Tailed Lizard can reach a snout to tail length of 36 inches. After three years your reptile should have reached its full grown size.

Most hatchlings typically do not exceed three inches. But it is important to be aware of which species you are buying and its potential adult size.

Can You Keep An Uromastyx As A Pet?

Uromastyx lizard

Uromastyx make excellent pet lizards for both novice and expert keepers. These reptiles are naturally inquisitive and very intelligent. Not to mention they are often considered to have very expressive faces that are sure to entertain their keeper.

Uromastyx Care Sheet

Uromastyx

Uromastyx Tank Size

Juveniles can be housed in a 20-gallon long aquarium, but adults require a minimum 60-gallon tank size. For a beginner asking what size tank does a uromastyx need it is best if you have a 90 gallon long tank. The larger tank size will make keeping a good heat gradient easier.

Some keepers choose to house juveniles in 90-gallon long enclosures from the start so they don’t have to buy a new tank in the future.

Larger species (e.g. Bent’s Spiny Tailed Lizard) will require a bigger enclosure of at least 5 feet long by 2 feet wide and 2 feet tall.

For most lizards a glass tank is best. Glass tanks have a good ability to retain heat and are very easy to clean. Some DIY keepers choose to build a plywood tank with glass sides.

The enclosure can be fitted with different lid types, but mesh lids should be avoided for this species. Mesh lids will let out too much heat and make it difficult to keep the hot basking spot needed for this lizard.

Setup

Uromastyx lizards love to hide under and climb on top of rock formations. Their enclosure should have multiple hides with lots of space to completely cover the lizard as well as perching space on exposed rock portions.

Pre-built rock hides can be used, but sterilized dead wood, rocks and excavator clay can also be used to build hides and perches.

Live plants can also be added to the tank. But given that they are primarily herbivores, they may try to eat the plants you put in with them. You should make sure to research which plants are safe to include before adding them.

RELATED: Blue-Tongued Skink Care Sheet, Diet, Housing, Price & More

Lighting and Temperature

Daytime tank temperatures should be on a heat gradient ranging from a hot 90°F to an ambient 80°F. A basking spot of around 130°F is also needed.

Depending on the size of your tank you may require multiple bulbs to establish a good heat gradient.

In a 90-gallon long tank a 70 watt halogen bulb should provide enough heat to reach 130°F for the basking spot. Alternatively you can use a mercury vapor bulb. If you find that your bulb produces too much heat for a smaller tank, you can raise the fixture above six inches.

For Uromastyx heating bulbs circular fixtures with clamps are recommended due the ease at which they can be raised and lowered.

Larger tanks may also require a 75 watt ceramic heat emitter to keep ambient temperatures around 79 to 80°F.

Nighttime temperature should fall to around 75°F and can be maintained with a ceramic heat emitter.

You will likely need several thermometers throughout the enclosure to properly monitor the temperature for a Uromastyx.

UVB lighting is not considered essential for this species as it is for a bearded dragon. Some keepers will use a 5.0 UVB tube light for 12 hours every day covering the warm half of the tank. Proper UVB exposure is best achieved via overhead lights in addition to normal heating lights.

Humidity

Tank humidity should reach no higher than ~35%. Most homes fall between 30 to 40% humidity so this should be easy to maintain. Given their high basking spot temperatures you should not need to mist or spray their tank to elevate the humidity.

Some keepers advise against using a water dish for them out of fear that this will elevate the humidity past what is considered healthy. If you choose to include a water dish keep it on the cool side of the tank and monitor to see if your lizard is drinking. If not the feel free to remove the water dish all together as they rarely drink from standing water.

Substrate

Sand is generally regarded as the best uromastyx substrate for the bottom of the enclosure. However paper towels can be more appropriate for juveniles to lessen the risk of them ingesting the substrate and becoming impacted. Adults are better at being able to separate plants and seeds from the substrate.

In the wild these lizards will enter deep burrows so are considered a burrowing species.

Experienced keepers may attempt to create a burrowing substrate with a mix of gravel, clay and potting soil. However a clay and soil substrate mix can quickly raise the tank humidity past what is safe. This is therefore not recommended for beginner keepers.

Housing Tips

Generally the best enclosures are 90-gallon long glass tanks with 8″ deep burrowing substrate and a high basking spot temperature of ~130°F.

Enclosure
Housing 90-gallon long glass tank
Heating 130°F basking
80-90°F gradient
Lighting 5.0 UVB tube light (optional)
70 watt halogen bulb
Humidity 35% for all species
Substrate Sand
Décor Two or more hides and perches capable of covering the entire lizard should be provided as a minimum

Uromastyx Diet

Uromastyx are almost exclusively herbivores and like to eat fresh dark leafy vegetables every day.

Some of their favorites include escarole, turnip greens, collard greens, mustard greens, dandelion greens and cilantro.

They are not like leopard geckos that eat insects and it is rare for them to eat anything other than plants. Some wild species will occasionally prey upon insects or other small vertebrates, but very rarely. Too much animal protein can prove fatal to these lizards.

A proper herbivore diet is important for uromastyx health.

To supply them with a proper diet a wide variety of plants should be fed. These plants should fall largely into three categories; dark leafy greens, fruit, and dried plants high in protein.

Food For Uromastyx
Greens (every day) Vegetable proteins (twice a week) Fruit (once a week)
Dark leafy vegetables such escarole, turnip greens, collard greens, mustard greens, dandelion greens and cilantro. Split peas, lentils and millet. Apples, cantaloupe, mango and papaya.

You can make a Uromastyx salad similar to how a bearded dragon’s salad is made. One advantage they have over the bearded dragon is their diet. Being herbivores means most of their food can be purchased from a grocery store.

Chop and mix a salad made from 70% dark leafy greens, 20% vegetable proteins and 10% fruit. Make sure non leafy vegetables are cut into pieces no bigger than the distance between your lizard’s eyes.

Place the salad in a small dish on the cool side of the enclosure every morning and removed it in the evening.

Little information is available on the quantity of food that should be given.

We recommend that you feed one to two cups of salad each day and rotate the greens every few feedings. If your lizard begins to show signs of obesity then try reducing their food intake to one cup each day.

A broad range of plants is important for proper nutrition.

They also require calcium supplements in their diet to avoid conditions such as metabolic bone disease. You should find a calcium supplements with no added phosphorus and a multivitamin supplement.

Health

This species can be a very healthy and long-lived lizard. Some reports suggest pet species can live to beyond thirty years of age. Others claim there is a large lifespan variation among pet and wild individuals.

Sadly because of their relatively recent introduction into the pet trade the exact uromastyx lifespan is unknown. A definitive answer to how long do uromastyx live is hard to give, but anywhere from 10 to 20 years seems normal.

During their lifespan they may present several health issues such as metabolic bone disease and impaction. However there are also some conditions that are more specific to this genus.

Tail Rot

Tail rot is not a condition exclusive to Uromastyx, but the arrangement of scales along their tail makes these lizards more prone to tail rot than other species. This health issue can happen when water remains trapped between the scales of your lizard’s tail. The water then begins to cause bacteria or fungal spores that may cause the tail to turn a dark color and potentially fall off if left untreated.

Protein Poisoning

They do not have a digestive system that can deal with lots of animal protein. Too much protein over-burdens the liver and kidneys resulting in sluggishness and eventual death. This is why it is not recommended to feed insects to them. Instead feed a salad made up of 70% dark leafy greens, 20% vegetable proteins and 10% fruit.

Behavior

Uromastyx face

Uromastyx are seen as well-tempered and docile when interacting with humans. They are generally considered friendly and easy to handle. If you want to handle one it is best to start when they are a juvenile. Reptiles are never born comfortable with human touch.

You can follow the steps below to make sure handling is no more stressful than it needs to be.

Try to perform each step several days in a row before moving to the next. If your lizard seems unhappy at the current step, then repeat the previous one for a few days:

  1. Pace your hand in the tank for several minutes at a time without attempting to touch.
  2. Use two fingers to pet the back of your lizard from head to tail.
  3. Gently scoop up your lizard from underneath and make sure to support the front and hind limbs.

It is best to wait several hours after feeding to handle them. The stress from handling may disrupt the digestive process. Frequently seeing undigested food in their feces may be a sign that you aren’t waiting long enough after feeding.

Bites can happen when handling but they are very rare.

When frightened a Uromastyx will typically whip their spiked tail to ward off a potential threat. If you see these behaviors when handling then slowly move your hand away.

Normally they are only aggressive towards other lizards, especially males of the same species. A single male and female can be safely housed together provided you offer a large 150-gallon tank and multiple hides for each lizard.

A pet Uromastyx can show a wide range of behaviors.

Licking

It is not uncommon for them to explore a new area by licking. Your lizard is likely to perform this behavior when being moved to a new enclosure or if you rearrange the layout of the tank. If you choose to let your lizard free-roam then be aware of this behavior and make sure they are not licking anything that may prove harmful.

Hissing

A hissing reptile is generally uncomfortable with something you are doing. This behavior is not uncommon in juveniles, especially when trying to adjust them towards handling. Adults that are poorly acclimated to human contact may also use this behavior along with whipping their spiked tail.

Excessive Sleeping

Some beginners often ask why their uromastyx is sleeping so much. The most common reason is because they are brumating. Brumation is similar to hibernation in mammals, but for reptiles. These reptiles will enter an annual period of brumation during the winter for between one to four months. During this time they may occasionally wake, but spend most of their time inactive or sleeping.

Uromastyx Price

Saharan spiny tailed lizard

The type of uromastyx you buy has a large influence on how much you will pay for one. There are also a wide variety of selectively bred color morphs which can easily double or triple the uromastyx price.

The cheapest variety is Bent’s Spiny Tailed Lizard which costs approximately $125. The list below outlines the price for each of the six commonly available species:

Species Price (USD)
Ornate Spiny Tailed $400-$450
Egyptian Spiny Tailed $250-$275
Bell’s Dabb Lizard $175-$225
Ocellated Dabb Lizard $175-$225
Bent’s Spiny Tailed Lizard $125-$175
Mali Uromastyx $150-$300

Availability is a common issue that first time buyers experience. Uromastyx are not very common and some countries do not permit them to be imported and/or exported. This can make finding a trustworthy breeder difficult.

These reptiles can be purchased from a variety of sources including private breeders, online websites, reptile expos, and some traditional pet stores.

The Convention on International Trade lists the Uromastyx under appendix II. This means that these species are not threatened with extinction, but trade must be controlled. Some countries allow the export of these lizards while others do not. Egypt has banned export of the aegyptia subspecies.

Unfortunately many Uromastyx sold as pets are wild caught. This means it is important you research where the keeper or breeder sources their reptiles from before buying. Be sure to ask for information regarding the lizard’s history. Wild caught species tend to be more prone to disease and parasite infection and less docile.

Summary

The Uromastyx is a group of 15 lizards that all belong to the Agamid family. Six are available in the United States as pets and the Mali is considered the most widely available and popular species.

Uromastyx are an excellent first lizard for anyone wishing to adopt a pet reptile.

These reptiles are naturally inquisitive and very intelligent.

Regardless of your level of experience anyone can successfully care for and enjoy a pet Uromastyx.

These lizards are often compared with bearded dragons. Both species are considered friendly, easy to handle, and have simple care needs. But many people regard the Uromastyx as the more exotic and beautiful of the two.

They are known for their beautiful and vibrant colors. Some species have a large amount of blue across their back separated by intricate patterns of yellow, orange, red and white.

Let us know your favorite species in the comments below.

RELATED: Armadillo Lizard Care Sheet, Facts, Price, Lifespan & More

About Nigel Robert

Nigel Robert Nigel is the managing editor at More Reptiles. He is a lifelong reptile lover, biologist and wildlife consultant who brings a decade of experience working in reptile conservation and consultancy. He joined our team in 2020 and when he’s not reviewing reptile care sheets, he’s out looking for reptiles in the wild!

Leave a Comment