Uromastyx (Uromastyx sp.)
Uromastyx (also known as spiny-tailed lizards or mastigures) are a group of 10-36” / 25-91cm lizards with round heads, bulging cheeks, round bellies, and a heavily-spiked tail of variable length. Color and pattern varies by sex and species, from tan or gray to bright blue and green.
There are approximately 20 different Uromastyx species and subspecies:
- aegyptia aegyptia
- aegyptia leptieni
- aegyptia microlepsis
- dispar dispar
- dispar flavifasciata
- dispar maliensis
- ornata ornata
- ornata philbyi
Uromastyx dispar maliensis, U. geyri, and U. ornata ornata are the most common in the U.S. pet trade. Others are also available, but they are more likely to be wild-caught.
These lizards are native to north Africa and the Middle East. They are true heat-lovers, and can be found out basking even during the hottest part of the day. They are true terrestrial lizards, skilled at climbing rock stacks and burrowing.
If you pay attention to providing high-quality uromastyx care, they can live for over 25 years, and quite possibly up to 60. Some species are more tolerant of humans than others, but once you get their husbandry right, they can make delightful pets.
Uromastyx Shopping List
These are products I personally recommend for setting up a functional uromastyx enclosure. The recommendations below apply to most uromastyx 24″ / 61cm long and shorter. Some of the links in this care sheet are paid links — if you’d like to know why ReptiFiles uses paid links, visit this page.
Items marked with an * are recommended to be purchased in-person rather than online.
- 48″L x 24″W x 24″H front-opening reptile enclosure, mesh top
- Zoo Med Combo Deep Dome Dual Lamp Fixture
- 100w Arcadia PAR38 Halogen Flood Bulb, x2
- Retes Stack
- Several large pieces of flagstone or slate tile*
- 2”W x 2”H wood spacers*
- Wood stilts*
- Lutron Credenza lamp dimmer, x2
- Zoo Med Digital Combo Thermometer Humidity Gauge
- Etekcity 774 infrared thermometer
- 22″ T5 HO Arcadia Dragon 14%
- 24″ Arcadia ProT5 OR Vivarium Electronics T5 HO fixture
- 34″ Arcadia JungleDawn LED Bar
- Zilla 24/7 Digital Power Center
- 2.5-4 cubic ft play sand*
- Reptile hideout/cave
- Environmental enrichment items
- Food and water dishes
- Repashy Superveggie herbivore supplement
- Bee pollen granules
Uromastyx Enclosure Size Requirements
Although uromastyx lizards vary widely in size, a good rule of thumb is to plan for no smaller than a 4’L x 2’W x 2’H / 1.2 x 0.6 x 0.6m enclosure. Particularly large species however, such as U. aegyptia, will need something much larger — at least 6’x3’x3′. I generally calculate minimum recommended enclosure size for lizards with the following formula:
- Length = 4 times SVL
- Width = 2 times SVL
- Height = 2 times SVL, no less than 18″ / 46cm
(SVL = snout-to-vent length. If you don’t know the average adult SVL for your species, choosing an enclosure that is at least twice as long as the total length and at least once as wide/tall can work as a rough starting point.)
The enclosure should be front-opening for easy access, with excellent ventilation. Ideally, the top should be mesh rather than solid. And of course, bigger is always better!
Here are some enclosures that ReptiFiles recommends for housing uromastyx, based on expected adult total length:
18″ / 45cm long or less:
- Custom Reptile Habitats 3 Foot Reptile Enclosure
- Exo Terra 36″ x 18″ x 18″ All-Glass Terrarium
- Carolina Custom Cages Large 36″ x 18″ x 18″
- Repti Zoo 36″ x 18″ x 18″ Reptile Terrarium
24″ / 60cm long or less:
- Custom Reptile Habitats 4 Foot Reptile Enclosure
- Zen Habitats 4’x2’x2′ PVC Panel Reptile Enclosure
- Dubia.com 4x2x2 (120 Gallon) Reptile Enclosure
36″ / 90cm long or less:
Can multiple uromastyx be housed together?
Possibly. Most species of uromastyx can be housed in pairs or small harems with one male and multiple females. However, you must be willing to buy/build an enclosure that is at least double the recommended minimum size. Furthermore, there’s no guarantee that the individuals will get along.
In other words, it’s best to stick to one lizard per enclosure. Don’t worry, they like to live alone, too.
Lighting & UVB for Uromastyx
Uromastyx are diurnal, which means that they are most active during the day. This also means that they are stimulated by the presence of bright white light in their environment, and they require strong, high-quality UVB lighting for survival.
UVB lighting can be tricky, because in order to get the right strength of UVB (UV Index, or UVI), distance and potential mesh obstruction must be considered. To provide appropriate UVB to a sun-loving uromastyx, use the Arcadia Dragon 14% bulb, roughly half the length of the enclosure and placed on the warm side. The bulb should be mounted in a reflective T5 HO fixture such as the Arcadia ProT5 or Vivarium Electronics T5 HO fixture.
The basking area should be placed to put the uromastyx’s back at the appropriate distance:
- UVB mounted over mesh: 8-13” below UVB lamp
- UVB mounted under mesh: 14-20” below UVB lamp
(These recommendations are approximations based on available data. For best results, use a Solarmeter 6.5 to determine the best placement to achieve a UVI of 4.0-6.0 in the basking area.)
Bright light with a color temperature of around 6500K is strongly correlated with optimal mental and physical health in uromastyx. Uromastyx with additional “daylight” lighting in their enclosure are markedly more alert and active than those without, as well as demonstrating better appetite and more natural behaviors.
Full-spectrum lighting is not the same as reptile UVB lighting, so you will need two separate lamps. The Arcadia Jungle Dawn LED Bar and Bio Dude Glow & Grow are both excellent lamps for this purpose. You will need one long enough to span at least most of the enclosure, or multiple lamps.
Uromastyx Temperature Requirements
Humans are warm-blooded, which means that our body temperature is automatically regulated. Uromastyx, however, are cold-blooded, which means that they have to move between areas of different temperatures in order to regulate their body temperature. Uromastyx warm up by basking under the sun in the wild. In captivity, they do best with a halogen heat lamp as a heat source.
- Basking surface temperature: 120-130°F (49-55°C)
- Cool zone temperature: ~85°F (29°C)
100w PAR38 halogen flood bulbs should be plenty to achieve those basking temperatures if you build up the basking platform to be about 10-12” below the heat lamp. However, if you notice that they’re getting too hot, dial it down with a plug-in lamp dimmer or reduce the height of the platform. If your basking area is too cool, you will need higher wattage bulbs.
I strongly recommend constructing a special type of basking platform for your uromastyx called a Retes stack. This is a stack of flat wood or stone pieces with spacers in between to create secure crevices where your pet can feel secure while also choosing the exact temperature it wants to bask at.
To measure the basking surface temperature, use an infrared thermometer (a.k.a. temperature gun). To passively track basking temperature, use a digital probe thermometer, with the probe placed on the basking surface under the heat source. The Etekcity 774 is a good infrared thermometer, and most reptile-brand digital probe thermometers function well enough.
Uromastyx Humidity Requirements
Uromastyx require very low ambient humidity levels — around 20-30%, as measured by a digital probe hygrometer with the probe placed on the ground on the cool side of the enclosure. Humidity levels that are consistently higher than that can make your uromastyx sick!
However, uromastyx do benefit from having access to some kind of humid “burrow” in their enclosure. This is usually a burrow they’ve dug out for themselves in the substrate, so it’s advisable to periodically add water to the substrate to help prevent burrows from collapsing and make sure the burrows maintain healthy humidity levels. The top 1” or so of substrate should always be dry, however.
NOTE: Certain coastal Uromastyx species prefer more humid conditions than average. U. yemenensis needs an average humidity of around 50%, and U. macfadyeni needs it to be around 30-35%. Occasional nighttime misting may be appreciated by these species.
Substrate Options for Uromastyx
Uromastyx are healthiest and happiest when they are housed on a substrate (a.k.a. “bedding”) that imitates the conditions of their natural habitat. In northern Africa and the Middle East, that habitat is typically sand or very sandy soil. So the substrate in your uromastyx’s enclosure should be fine sand or sandy soil, packed at least 4” deep — preferably deeper, if at all possible. In a 4x2x2 enclosure, that takes at least 2.5 cubic ft of substrate.
Here are some naturalistic substrate options appropriate for using with uromastyx:
- Jurassic Natural Australian Desert Dragon Habitat
- Jurassic Reptile Substrate
- Zoo Med ReptiSand
- Exo Terra Desert Sand
- Play sand
Alternatively, you can also make your own DIY desert mix of 50% play sand, 30% organic topsoil, and 20% Zoo Med Excavator Clay.
Feces and urates should be removed daily, and contaminated substrate should be scooped out and replaced. Substrate should be completely replaced once every 3-4 months.
Sick or wounded uromastyx should not be kept on loose substrate. Instead, use paper towels.
Environmental Enrichment: Decorating the Terrarium
Decorations play an important role in your uromastyx’s enclosure as environmental enrichment. Enrichment items encourage exercise, stimulate your pet’s natural instincts, and help promote overall wellbeing. And, of course, they make the enclosure look nice!
Here are some ideas. You don’t need all of these things, but you do need enough of them to provide plenty of places to hide and opportunities to climb/explore.
Feeding Your Uromastyx
Uromastyx are true herbivores, which means that they need an entirely plant-based diet to get the nutrition that their bodies need. How often and how much they need to eat depends on age. Juvenile uromastyx should be fed daily, as much as they can eat. Adults should be fed 4-5x/week.
The key to providing a healthy, balanced diet for your uromastyx is VARIETY! Here is a quick list of safe, nutritious vegetables to get you started:
- collard greens
- cactus pad
- spring mix
- pea shoots
- bok choy
- carrot greens
- dandelion greens
- hibiscus leaves
- clover sprouts
More options for leafy greens to feed to your uromastyx can be found at The Tortoise Table.
Interestingly, Uromastyx also need seeds (ex: lentil, white millet) as a regular part of their diet. These provide an important source of protein and fat. Offer them 1x/week.
Edible flowers like dandelions, rose petals, clover, hibiscus, and squash blossoms make great treats. Fruits like papaya, figs, apple, prickly pear, berries, or cherries can also be offered as a rare treat. Make sure that flowers are free of pesticides before feeding.
To ensure that your uromastyx is getting all of the vitamins and minerals that they need, you will need a calcium powder and a multivitamin powder — or a good all-in-one like Arcadia Earthpro A or Repashy Superveggie. For best results, use as directed by the manufacturer.
Also add a pinch of organic bee pollen powder or granules to your pet’s salad once a week.
Uromastyx are well adapted to living in drought conditions and get most of the water they need from their food. However, as long as the enclosure is well-ventilated, there is no harm in providing a small bowl of fresh water at all times.
Handling Your Uromastyx
Uromastyx generally tame down well, but it’s important to remember that each is its own individual, and some tame faster than others, while some never become tame at all. This may take a while, so be patient! Captive-bred uromastyx are likely to be more tameable than wild-caught individuals, and juveniles are generally much more skittish than adults.
- After bringing your uromastyx home, leave it alone for 2 weeks or so to settle in. If your new pet hasn’t eaten by the time the 2 weeks are over, do not handle and make an appointment with an experienced reptile vet.
- Introduce yourself with food via your fingers or soft-tipped feeding tongs. Meanwhile, make sure to get your hands in the enclosure daily for spot cleaning, water changes, etc. This will help get the dragon further used to you.
- Once your uromastyx regularly takes food from your hand, encourage it to climb onto your hand. For example, place the food so it has to climb onto you to get it.
To pick up your uromastyx, always gently scoop it up from below and support as much of its body as possible. Never approach quickly or from above, as this is predatory behavior that will scare your pet. As you handle your uromastyx, keep your movements slow, and only loosely restrain it (if at all). “Treadmilling” it from one hand to the other can help it work off nervous energy.
Baines, F. M., Chattell, J., Dale, J., Garrick, D., Gill, I., Goetz, M., Skelton, T., & Swatman, M. (2016). How much UVB does my reptile need? The UV-Tool, a guide to the selection of UV lighting for reptiles and amphibians in captivity. Journal of Zoo and Aquarium Research, 1, 57. https://doi.org/10.19227/jzar.v4i1.150
Full Sun Baskers. (n.d.). Arcadia Reptile. Retrieved December 7, 2021, from https://www.arcadiareptile.com/lighting/full-sun-baskers/
Lietz, P. (n.d.). Uromastyx Care. Arids Only. Retrieved December 7, 2021, from http://www.aridsonly.com/uromastyx-care-information
Mastigures (Genus Uromastyx). (n.d.). INaturalist. Retrieved December 7, 2021, from https://www.inaturalist.org/taxa/31313-Uromastyx
Uromastyx. (n.d.). Moon Valley Reptiles. Retrieved December 7, 2021, from https://www.moonvalleyreptiles.com/uromastyx
Uromastyx.pl. (n.d.). Retrieved April 8, 2020, from http://uromastyx.pl/en/home-2/
Uromastyx Club group on Facebook
The ReptiFiles Uromastyx Care Sheet is a simplified care summary, not a full ReptiFiles care guide. While I have done my best to ensure that the information contained is accurate, due to time constraints, the research behind ReptiFiles care sheets is not as thorough as the research involved with my full-length care guides. I strongly encourage readers to do their own research from high-quality, reputable sources outside of just this care sheet as part of preparing for your new pet reptile.