If you’re planning on getting a pet uromastyx, then the first thing you need to do is set up an appropriate terrarium for it to live in. Uromastyx aren’t like other types of pets that you may be more familiar with, such as dogs or cats. They can’t simply live free-range with you in your home; instead, they need a terrarium that has the right equipment in the right arrangement to create a usable environment that replicates the conditions of their native habitat.
If you haven’t read our Uromastyx Care Sheet yet, read that first! Once you have a basic understanding of what your new pet needs from its habitat, you’re ready to start setting up a uromastyx terrarium.
It may seem expensive to buy all of these supplies for “just a lizard,” but they are essential to your pet’s survival. Without an appropriate terrarium to live in, your new pet is likely to get sick and die. Here’s our step-by-step guide to successfully setting up a uromastyx terrarium so you and your beloved pet can enjoy many years together!
Step 1: Choose the Right Terrarium
There are many different types of uromastyx, with some never getting longer than 18” and others growing up to 36”. Your first task, then, is to figure out what type of uromastyx you have and how long it’s likely to grow, as this will help you choose an appropriate enclosure. If you’re still not sure, 4’L x 2’W x 2’H is going to be a safe starting point, but keep in mind that particularly large species, such as U. aegyptia, will ultimately require something that measures 6’L x 3’L x 3’H enclosure or larger.
This terrarium can be made from wood, PVC, or even glass, but it should be front-opening and have plenty of ventilation for healthy airflow, preferably in the form of a mesh top, as this makes it much easier to safely install heat, UVB, and 6500K lamps.
If your terrarium doesn’t have opaque sides, you will need to cover them with something to help your uromastyx be comfortable in its environment. This can be as simple as construction paper or as elaborate as a 3D textured background.
Products we recommend:
Step 2: Arrange Your Lighting and Heating Equipment
To heat and light your uromastyx’s terrarium appropriately, you will need the following equipment:
- Heat lamps (at least 2)
- UVB lamp
- 6500K grow lamp
Both heat lamps should be placed on the right or left side of the terrarium, close together. The UVB lamp should be placed on the same side so it fully overlaps with the beams from the heat lamps. The 6500K lamp should be placed on the same side as the others, extending along most of the length of the terrarium.
Products we recommend:
- Fluker's Mini Sun Dome Lamp, 5.5"
- Zoo Med Repti Tuff Splashproof Halogen Lamp, 90w
- Arcadia T5 HO Desert 12% UVB bulb, 22”
- Arcadia ProT5 Lamp Fixture, 24”
- Arcadia Jungle Dawn LED Bar, 34”
Step 3: Start Minimalist
With any new pet reptile, it is best practice to quarantine them for 3-6 months after bringing them home, especially if you have other pet reptiles. When you first set up your uromastyx terrarium, it’s best to start simple so you can quarantine them efficiently.
Here’s what you need at minimum:
- paper towels for substrate
- basking branch/platform
- hide box or cave (x2)
- food and water dishes
- digital thermometer/hygrometer device (x2)
Place the basking platform so it brings the uromastyx to 8-12” under the UVB lamp (mounted over mesh). Ideally, use a stack of flagstone or wood with spacers called a Retes Stack for this purpose. UVB wavelength intensity increases the closer the uromastyx gets to the lamp, so that is the closest the uromastyx should be able to get. If at all possible, buy or borrow a Solarmeter 6.5 to check that the maximum UVI is between 4.0-6.0.
Place the thermometer probes so one is on the basking surface and one is on the cool side of the terrarium. Your temperature gradient should look like this:
- Basking surface temperature: 120-130°F
- Cool zone temperature: ~85°F
If temperatures are too high, use a plug-in lamp dimmer, thermostat, or a lower bulb wattage. If the temperatures are too low, you will need higher-wattage bulbs.
Products we recommend:
- Zoo Med Repti Rock Food and Water Dishes, Medium
- Exo Terra Reptile Cave, Medium
- Zoo Med ReptiTemp Digital Infrared Thermometer
- Zoo Med ReptiTemp Rheostat
Step 4: Quarantine for at Least 3 Months
The purpose of using a minimalist setup for quarantine is to make it easy to keep clean. During this time, monitor your uromastyx for signs of illness. Get it tested by an experienced reptile veterinarian for intestinal parasites, and administer treatment if needed.
The paper towels should be changed out daily, and the enclosure and all accessories should be disinfected at least 1x/month. Use a bleach solution (¾ cup bleach per gallon of water) or veterinary-grade disinfectants like F10SC and Clean Break.
Step 5: Add Substrate
Once quarantine is over, you can work on giving your uromastyx terrarium a fully-enriched, long-term layout. It won’t need to be cleaned quite as often — only once every 3-6 months, depending on how good you are about spot-cleaning.
The first step of setting up a long-term terrarium design is adding a naturalistic substrate. For a uromastyx, it’s best to use fine sand or sandy soil. You will need at least 4” of substrate to provide a burrowing medium, so for a 4’x2’ terrarium, count on at least 80 quarts or 2.7 cubic feet of substrate.
If your terrarium has different dimensions, you can estimate the amount of substrate you’ll need by multiplying the length x width to get the number of cubic inches of substrate it will take for 1” deep of substrate. Then multiply that number by the desired depth of substrate, then convert the resulting number to quarts or cubic feet.
Products we recommend (choose one):
- Zoo Med ReptiSand
- Exo Terra Desert Sand
Step 6: Add Environmental Enrichment
Environmental enrichment is the process of strategically adding items to your uromastyx’s terrarium that make it more functional for the occupant. Now it’s time to get creative! The best way to get inspiration for your terrarium’s appearance is by looking at pictures of uromastyx habitat on sites like iNaturalist and Flickr.
Place the water bowl, hide, and basking platform first, and build around those. Make sure the water bowl is accessible and easy to remove, and leave enough open space for the uromastyx to easily get around.
Stacked flagstone can make an attractive and very basking platform. However, make sure to glue them together with cement or silicone so they can’t collapse on top of your pet!
Magnetic ledges increase the available surface area in your enclosure, look great, and encourage climbing.
You don’t have to worry about mold in the arid environment of a uromastyx terrarium, so you can use essentially any wood you want. Mopani wood, cork bark, grape vine, cholla wood, and manzanita wood can all work. Whichever you choose, make sure the branches are large enough to support your pet’s size and weight.
Plants are a great way to make a reptile terrarium more attractive, but because uromastyx are herbivorous, they may try to eat any plants or plant-like objects you put in the enclosure. This means that it’s best practice not to use artificial plants with uromastyx.
Live plants should be kept in pots to help keep the water close to the roots, unless the enclosure is bioactive (which this article is not covering). Use drought-tolerant plants tolerant of high ambient temperatures and moderate to high amounts of light. Some suitable options include:
- Carex grass
- Elephant bush
- Festuca grass
- Hens and chicks (Echeveria)
- Ice Plant
- Jade plant (Crassula ovata)
- Prickly pear cactus (Opuntia danicolor) (spineless)
For more safe plant ideas, visit The Tortoise Table.
Even after you’ve set up your uromastyx’s long-term terrarium arrangement, it’s okay to rearrange it every so often as you come to understand uromastyx husbandry better. It also helps keep your pet’s environment “fresh” and stimulates them to explore and exercise!
"Photo 104028027" by Xavier Rufray is licensed under CC BY-NC 4.0