Please see the UPDATED article Uromastyx Captive Care Altogether there are sixteen species within the Genus of Uromastyx. The following are the most common seen for sale within the industry. U. acanthinura, U. benti, U. hardwicki, U. ornata, U. ocellata, U. geryi, and U. aegyptia. The common names for these strange animals have a range almost as extensive if not more than the species themselves.
You may find Uromastyx sold as Dabb lizards, Spiny Tails, or Spiny-Tailed Agama, etc. They are lizards which deserve, if not demand, a special place within the ranks of any Saurian fan. They can be found in the northwestern territories of Africa and as far east as Pakistan while the furthest south they have been found is Djibouti. Looking at a world atlas, the Uromastyx seem to be found mostly in the desert areas; however, there are a few species which occur within the montane regions of Africa. All of the Uromastyx species inhabit very arid areas of the world. Even species that are recognized as “mountain species” occur within the range of extremely arid areas. This genus is believed by some to show their best colors at body temperatures above 100°F.
Denizens of the desert
Uromastyx acanthinura occur in North Africa. These Uromastyx can obtain an overall length of 40 cm. The typical coloration is variable within the species. The head of most is typically black in coloration while the body can represent a net-like coloration of yellow, gray, red, and green.
Uromastyx benti, or Rainbow Benti, aka Mountain Benti occur on the coast of Yemen in Saudi Arabia. The males are described as having a bluish torso with white spots that bleed into a reddish color towards the rear of the lizard. The females are typically tan in color while having a reddish tail. They obtain an overall length of 30 cm.
The smallest of the Uromastyx species, Uromastyx hardwicki, is a mountain-dwelling species, inhabiting the north west portion of India and parts of Pakistan. “Hardwicks” typically obtain a length of 25 cm. Coloration is usually tan with light yellow spotting.
Uromastyx ornata occur in eastern Egypt, Israel, and Saudi Arabia. The “Ornate Uromastyx” typically reach a total length of 30.5 cm & are sexually dichromatic, with the male of the species being green, blue, rust or any combination and variation in shades of these colors. Females are usually light brown or tan with the possibility or hints of colors. Males typically do not show the full coloration until sexual maturity is reached. There is also a subspecies of Uromastyx known as U. ornatus philbyi, (which I am not covering within this article) that occurs in Western Saudi Arabia and northwest Yemen.
Uromastyx ocellata occurs in northwest Somalia, Djibouti, Eritrea, North Sudan, and southeast Egypt. The same description could be used as was for the U. ornata. This is a “scale counter” or Taxonomists call that I would rather leave to the academe of the herp industry. I have however seen high orange color morph as well as a tan and white morph as well as a high blue color morph
Uromastyx aegyptia has within its ranks two subspecies one being U. a. microlepis the other being U. a. aegyptia. These Uromastyx occur in Libya, East of the Nile in Egypt, Israel, Northern Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Iran, Syria, and Jordan. The aegyptia seem to appear as a typical tan color that would be expected of most desert species. There are variances within the species but not any of such note that has made me take serious note of this particular species. The U. aegyptia can obtain a length of up to around 76 cm in total length.
U. geryi, or Niger Uromastyx, occur in south Algeria, Mali, and Niger in the Air Mountains, which are north of Agadez and east of Arlit. They also can be found in the Hoggar Mountains of Algeria, which are located southeast of Adrar. They usually appear in the industry as red, orange, or yellow. Males are considerably brighter than females.
Captive vs. Wild caught
All the Uromastyx species can be cared for in very similar ways, yet it is suggested by
some, that certain species have different requirements when it comes to breeding temperatures. All the captive-bred animals that I have encountered within the industry are very hardy lizards. The wild caught specimens that I have occasionally seen are very difficult to bring around to being stable.
The wild caught Uromatyx specimens are typically very dehydrated and literally infested with some type of parasite(s). This in turn means for the new owner that an extremely large veterinary bill is in order. Even then, there is no guarantee that the “cheaper” lizard will survive. By the time the scenario is over it would have been better to purchase a captive-bred animal rather than getting the cheaper wild caught one.
You can safely house a pair of Uromastyx in a four-foot long by two and one half foot deep by two-foot high enclosure. You need an enclosure that is large enough to provide roaming room for these very active species. These lizards are extremely active! They are not really a climbing species like the Bearded Dragons Pogona sp.
By “active,” it is meant that they are explorers that are constantly moving back and forth in the terrarium; therefore, a large enclosure is necessary. This is not an option that you can ignore if you are considering owning a Uromastyx. In my opinion even, a baby Uromastyx needs a larger enclosure than most other species of lizards.
Something that I tell all the customers that come into my store is to buy the largest enclosure that you can get. Even if it means waiting to get the animal and the rest of the equipment later. This will make you and your animal much happier than simply buying the smaller enclosure at first and then having to buy a larger one later.
In addition to a large enclosure, you will want to offer multiple hide boxes. Whether you have them housed as pairs or as individuals, multiple hide boxes have been noted as having an effect on the psychological aspect of the lizard. Hide boxes can be very simplistic, such as a cat litter pan turned upside down with a hole large enough to accommodate the lizard. You can also silicone pieces of slate or other rock material together and silicone these to the bottom of the cage so that the Uromastyx will not excavate underneath it and cause it to fall and crush them. Personally, I like the appearance of the natural vivaria.
Something that should be noted here is that some Uromastyx have been known to injure themselves while attempting to climb the glass of their enclosure. Spinal injuries have occurred repeatedly in the Uromastyx species, because they bend their backs in such a way that they crush their vertebrae when trying to escape. It is therefore suggested that you build up a rock wall or some other type of structure around the front of the enclosure so that they will not attempt to climb out.
Lighting & Heating
As with any desert-dwelling species, high heat is a must for the Uromastyx. Now then, by high heat I mean some extremely high heat. This species needs temperatures that would most likely “cook” other animals. A basking area of 130° F. is preferred. The lizard should be able to avoid this basking spot and get to another place in the cage where the temperature is at 90°F. This is what is known as the ambient cage temperature.
A thermometer placed at both ends of the cage will help you to regulate the temperatures to the necessary parameters. There are those who have advocated and shown proof from personal studies that an ambient temperature as high as 90-100° and a basking area of 140°F have produced larger animals. This same person also admits that they have no idea which factor was influential in the difference between the control group and the other.
There are two subjects that are hotly debated regarding captive care of Uromastyx. One is substrate and the other is food. First I will relay and discuss the matter of substrate. All Uromastyx that have been found in the wild have been reported as being found in the rocky outcroppings of the desert. They have also been misconstrued as sand-dwelling animals, when actually, in the wild they avoid sand altogether. They instead inhabit clay/sand mixtures or loamy soil. The reason for this is that these types of soil hold a burrow rather than collapsing in on itself.
From what I have read and observed myself in captive Uromastyx, washed play sand or high-quality birdseed work the best as bedding. The lizards will occasionally eat the birdseed (from which the sunflower seeds have been sifted out) and what is processed in the gut is nutritious, and what is not passes easily enough as to not cause any impaction. Crushed walnut appears to be a point on which there is much contention. I would highly advise against using this type of bedding. Reports say that when it is ingested by the lizards it swells and causes a major impaction within the gut. People say that they have used it without ill effects but most all the reports say that it is a bad idea for bedding.
Uromastyx are by classification omnivores, but they should be fed primarily herbivorous foodstuffs, as this is what they encounter and eat in the wild. In studies, it has been shown detrimental to feed them too many insects, which is anything more than a few at one time. Gravid females may be fed more than this: however, make sure that the insect is treated with type of supplement itself. Water is obtained through the intake of the herbivorous diet that should consist of dandelion greens, turnip greens, collard greens, and frozen mixed vegetables that have been defrosted. In addition, I have personally seen a dried mixture of seven-bean soup used with great results.
Some foods that should never be offered to the Uromastyx are spinach greens, beet greens, Swiss chard, or cabbage. Kale, broccoli, and collard greens should be offered on a limited basis. Water should not be offered within the terrarium. It will usually only end up being spilled and cause humidity problems within the cage, which will cause serious complications with the Uromastyx’ health.