Unlike other reptiles, the spiny-tailed lizard is not a common pet. It is legal to own in the U.S., but only a few countries allow it to be exported, making it hard to acquire. If you can find one, the spiny-tail is an interesting pet. Based on its diet alone, the spiny-tail is much lower maintenance than its cricket-eating cousins. An adult lizard only needs vegetation to eat every few days. Its housing needs are pretty simple as well. If you can provide a warm enclosure with low humidity and rocks where it can both bask and hide, you should be able to keep a happy and healthy lizard.
Common Name Spiny-tailed lizard, Uromastyx
Scientific Name Uromastyx spp.
Adult Size 10 to 18 inches
Lifespan 15 to 30 years
Can You Own a Pet Spiny-tailed Lizard?
It is legal to own a spiny-tailed lizard without a permit.
Things to Consider
While it is perfectly legal to own a spiny-tailed lizard, it's important to consider your ability to provide the necessary living conditions for this animal for many years. Owning a spiny-tail is a serious commitment because these lizards can live up to 30 years.
Spiny-tailed Lizard Behavior and Temperament
The spiny-tailed lizard is like a small, gentle reptile that uses its tail to wave off predators in defense. Its scientific genus name, Uromastyx, comes from an ancient Greek word meaning "tail" or "whip."
This lizard is a natural burrower in the wild, living in tunnels up to 10 feet long. The reclusive nature of this pet contributes to a rather shy disposition in captivity. Most spiny-tailed lizards will hide when you try to handle them. However, there are a few that will tolerate gentle handling, and some will eat straight out of their owners' hands.
These lizards have a powerful jaw, and the bite can hurt, but they usually only bite as a defensive mechanism. If handled calmly and with care, without sudden movements, your pet is unlikely to bite you.
Male spiny-tailed lizards may act aggressively towards other due to their territorial nature. So, either keep one male per group or house it alone.
A large terrarium or fish tank (40 to 55 gallons) is needed to house a spiny-tailed lizard. A few rocks are also necessary to provide basking, hiding, climbing, and eating spots. You can buy a commercially-produced reptile shelter or create a tower of securely stacked rocks interspersed with a few small logs with crevices in which your lizard can hide. It may be tempting to minimize hiding spaces in order to have more viewing opportunities, but keeping your lizard exposed will cause it stress and result in failing health.
You will need to remove structures and substrate to deep-clean the lizard's entire enclosure once a month. Between these cleanings, you will need to spot clean or scoop up visible feces to maintain sanitary conditions.
Reptile owners sometimes use substrate or bedding to line the bottom of a cage. Since spiny-tailed lizards are diggers, they will appreciate ample substrate for burrowing.
Provide 6 to 8 inches of bedding material in the enclosure so that your lizard can instinctively burrow. Natural sand sold as "washed play sand" or calcium sand sold in pet stores works well.
Any substrate that can fit in your lizard's mouth can be accidentally ingested while eating and has the possibility of causing an impacted colon. To avoid this, feed your lizard on a plate covering the substrate, so it cannot swallow bits of sand by mistake.
Provide heating with heat lamps. All reptiles regulate their body temperature by moving around their environments, from warm basking spots to cooler crevices. Provide a basking area with a lamp at one end of the tank that remains about 120 degrees; the cooler end of the tank should maintain a temperature around 90 degrees. At night, the enclosure's temperature can drop to replicate its natural desert environment as long as it stays above 70 degrees. For lighting, you can choose a ceramic light, or a blue, red, or white heat light bulb. Make sure you keep a thermometer handy or mount one at each end of the enclosure to regularly monitor the temperature.
Spiny-tailed lizards need ample UVB exposure provided by a fluorescent or mercury vapor bulb. Purchase bulbs that have at least an eight to 10 percent UVB output (a higher UVB output is excellent, too, and preferred). Keep this bulb on a 12-hour cycle to mimic the sun going up and down.
Place your light 10 to 12 inches from the spot where your lizard basks. Since mesh screens block a good portion of the light's UVB rays, mount it underneath the screen if possible, just not too close to the basking surface.
Replace fluorescent bulbs every six months or following the manufacturer's recommendation. Even if the bulb still emits light, the invisible UVB rays stop emitting after six months.
This lizard cannot tolerate high humidity; too much moisture can kill it. The ideal humidity range for the spiny-tailed lizard is no more than 35 percent. This lizard typically burrows deeply to find any moisture it needs, so provide a humid hide or container for it (no more than 65 percent humidity) to simulate its burrow. It may need this humid environment to help it shed its skin. To monitor the moisture level, use a hygrometer or humidity gauge.
What Do Spiny-tailed Lizards Eat and Drink?
Spiny-tailed lizards are herbivores. They may eat the occasional insect in the wild, but too much animal protein can cause it digestive distress or severe kidney issues, so avoid feeding your lizard insects.
Feed a variety of dark leafy greens, such as escarole, dandelion greens, endive, collard greens, mustard greens, and spring mixes. For added protein, include lentils, split peas, beans, and millet.
In the wild, these lizards can go weeks or months without food. Feed hatchlings and juveniles daily, but adults can eat four or five times a week. Feed in the morning, and offer the lizard as much as it will eat. If it refuses to eat, remove the food so that it doesn't rot. On occasion, your spiny-tailed lizard may refuse food for up to a week. These lizards may experience a loss of appetite when feeling stressed, preparing to shed their skin, or falling ill.
Healthy lizards that are fed a varied diet of veggies and should not need a calcium supplement, but many exotics veterinarians still recommend dusting calcium powder over your lizard's food a couple of times a week.
A water dish is not necessary since spiny-tails get their water from their food.
Common Health Problems
Metabolic bone disease (MBD) is one of the most common illnesses found in pet reptiles, often resulting from calcium and vitamin D deficiency. Signs of MBD include swollen joints, trembling, and a lax jaw. A balanced diet, ample UVB lighting, and calcium supplementation should prevent your lizard from getting MBD.
Dehydration can also result from an inadequate diet. Since spiny-tailed lizards rely on their food as their source for water, an abundance of leafy greens will prevent dehydration.
Spiny-tailed lizards measure between 10 and 18 inches, including their tails, as adults. Females are generally larger than males.
Purchasing Your Spiny-tailed Lizard
Before purchasing a spiny-tailed lizard, search local reputable breeders or sellers that have experience with captively bred spiny-tailed lizards. If you can get your reptile from a breeder, they can account for the health of your pet, and most have hand-raised the lizards so that they are comfortable with human contact. Captive-bred lizards are already accustomed to life in a cage and will startle less when being handled. Do not buy an imported lizard; they are often collected illegally, and poachers are responsible for depleting wild populations.
You can often find reputable breeders through exotics vets, other reptile owners, and reptile shows. At reptile expos, you can regularly meet breeders as well as shop for lizards and all your supplies in one place. Adult spiny-tailed lizards can cost from $100 to $300. Hatchlings usually cost less since their mortality rate is the highest.
Signs of a healthy spiny-tailed lizard include smooth skin with no traces of mites (small, reddish-brown spots around the face), clear eyes, a smooth jawline, and a fat, rounded tail.
Similar Animals to the Spiny-tailed Lizard
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Do spiny-tailed lizard like to be held?
These shy lizards are not particularly fond of being touched, but those raised from babies will be more likely to accept petting and holding.
Can I put my lizard's food on the floor of its enclosure?
It's better to feed your lizard on a dish or flat surface above the ground so that it doesn't accidentally ingest sand or other substrate; these materials can cause digestive problems.
Where do spiny-tailed lizards live in the wild?
Spiny-tails live in parts of northern Africa, the Middle East, Asia, and India.