Uromastyx Care

Uromastyx on sand and gravel in front of a log
Uromastyx are natural burrowers so they should be provided with sand. James Gerholdt/Getty Images

The uromastyx, also known as the spiny-tailed lizard, Dabb lizard, Mastigure, spiny-tailed agamid, or simply the spinytail, is not as common of a pet reptile as a bearded dragon or leopard gecko. But just like the more popular kinds of reptiles, the environment that a uromastyx is kept in has a direct effect on it's health so it's care is of utmost importance if you wish to have a healthy pet.

Uromastyx Profile

A uromastyx reminds some people of a gentle, small dinosaur partly because of their spiny tail that they can be used to whip around in defense. Their name is even derived from ancient Greek and breaks down into two words meaning "tail" and "whip" or "scourge." 

Uromastyx are found in the wild in parts of Africa, the Middle East, Asia, and India. Species vary in size but they can grow to be about 10 to 36 inches long. There are six species that are kept as pets in the U.S. but about 13 total species in the world.The ones commonly seen as pets in the U.S. are under 14 inches in length. They are all herbivores and natural burrowers, living in burrows up to 10 feet in length in the wild.

Heating and Lighting for Uromastyx

For years uromastyx were considered difficult to keep in captivity but now that more is known about their diet and environmental requirements people are better able to care for them appropriately. With that being said, it is vital to the health of your uromastyx that you provide them with UVB exposure and a hot basking area.

UVB lighting is most often provided in the form of a fluorescent or mercury vapor bulb. Unless you house your uromastyx in a small room, a fluorescent UVB light is your best option. These can be found online or at your local pet store but be sure to purchase one with 8-10% or higher UVB output.

Place this light about 10-12 inches away from where your uromastyx will bask. If it is too close you can cause thermal burns and blindness. If it is too far away it won't benefit your uromastyx because the UVB rays can only reach so far. Mesh screens block a good portion of these invisible rays so the light should not be mounted underneath a screen whenever possible. Reflectors on the inside of the fluorescent fixtures also help to maximize the bulb's effectiveness.

Replace fluorescent bulbs every 6 months or when the manufacturer recommends doing so, even if the light is still giving off white light since the invisible UVB rays run out before the white light burns out. Keep this bulb on a 12-hour cycle to mimic the sun for your uromastyx.

Heating sources are best delivered using heat bulbs. Whether ceramic or a blue, red or white heat light, use enough wattage to create a thermal gradient in the tank. One side of the tank should be cooler than the other so that your uromastyx can choose what temperature they want to be in. The basking area should be about 120 F and the cooler end can get into the low 90's. At night you can allow the enclosure to drop into the 70's.

Uromastyx Bedding

Uromastyx burrow by nature so a bedding material that allows them to practice this behavior, such as calci-sand, should be used in an enclosure. Keep in mind any bedding that can fit in your uromastyx's mouth has a possibility of causing an impaction so in order to avoid this, always feed your lizard on a plate or lid so they don't accidentally consume the sand. If you want to avoid an impaction all together and don't mind a less natural bedding option try felt, paper towels, or indoor/outdoor carpet.

Uromastyx Cage Furnishings

In addition to the bedding, provide something for your uromastyx to hide in, climb, and eat on. A water dish is not necessary as uromastyx get their water from their food but some veterinarians will recommend providing a shallow dish to allow soaking or a sickly uromastyx with access to water if they want it. Most uromastyx keepers don't have a water dish in their lizard's cage and they do fine but the decision is up to you.

Feeding Uromastyx

Since uromastyx are herbivores, too much animal protein in their diet will cause serious kidney issues so their diet should consist of a variety of dark leafy greens. Escarole, dandelion greens, endive, collard greens, mustard greens, and spring mixes can make up the majority of the diet but lentils, split peas, beans, and some seeds, like millet, should also be provided for some vegetable protein. Gut-loaded insects are best avoided but a rare treat is alright. Stay away from super worms at all times.

Healthy adult uromastyx who get a varied diet of veggies with a proper calcium to phosphorous ratio shouldn't need a calcium supplement but many veterinarians still recommend supplementing your lizard's food with a calcium powder a couple of times a week.

Spine-free cacti can also be offered along with an occasional blueberry or chopped apple piece but overall, the daily meal should be a mixture of the dark leafy greens with the beans and seeds mixed in and calcium dusted on top.