Uromastyx (Uromastyx sp.) are a group of 10-36” long, diurnal, terrestrial lizards native to desert areas of north Africa and the Middle East. They prefer arid habitats with plenty of rocks and access to the plants that form the entirety of their diet.
Uromastyx have a full-bodied build with stout limbs, a large abdomen, rounded head, bulging cheeks, and a spiky tail. The shape and length of the tail varies by species. Depending on species, they can have a variety of colors and patterns, including red, orange, yellow, green, blue, tan, brown, black, and/or white. Males are often significantly more colorful than females.
Uromastyx are becoming increasingly popular as pets, with most species and subspecies having been bred in captivity:
- aegyptia aegyptia
- aegyptia leptieni
- aegyptia microlepsis
- dispar dispar
- dispar flavifasciata
- dispar maliensis
- ornata ornata
- ornata philbyi
They can make good pets due to their relatively docile temperaments, but accommodating their need for high temperatures and a diverse herbivorous diet can be challenging. With good care, they can live up to 25 years.
Minimum terrarium size for uromastyx
The minimum enclosure size for housing most uromastyx is 4’L x 2’W x 2’H, with larger being preferred. However, for uromastyx larger than 24”, a proportionately larger 6’L x 3’W x 3’H enclosure is required as the minimum.
Cohabiting multiple uromastyx in the same enclosure is not recommended.
Do uromastyx need UVB?
Yes! Uromastyx require UVB lighting for their survival. UVB lighting helps provide a clear day/night cycle, provides all of the vitamin D that your pet needs, strengthens the immune system, facilitates better digestion, and other benefits.
The best UVB bulbs for a uromastyx are:
- Zoo Med Reptisun T5 HO 10.0
- Arcadia Desert 12%
For best results, house the UVB bulbs in a reflective fixture, preferably Arcadia or Vivarium Electronics brand. It should be roughly half the length of the enclosure and positioned on the same side of the terrarium as the heat lamp. If the UVB is mounted over mesh, place the basking surface so the lizard’s back is 8-12” below the lamp. If the UVB is mounted inside the enclosure, place the basking surface so the lizard’s back is 14-16” below the lamp. The basking surface should be the closest surface in the enclosure to the UVB lamp.
Uromastyx also benefit from plant grow lights as part of their environment. Add a ~6500K LED or T5 HO fluorescent grow lamp to provide extra illumination, as well as help any live plants in the enclosure to thrive.
Lights should be on for 11 hours/day during winter and 13 hours/day during summer to simulate seasonal changes in day length. Replace your UVB bulb every 12 months to maintain effectiveness.
Best temperature for uromastyx
Uromastyx need a hot basking surface temperature between 120-130°F, and around 85°F on the cool side. Temperatures should be measured via infrared thermometer. For best results, use a flat piece of stone such as flagstone, paver stone, or unpolished stone tile as the basking surface.
Provide heat for your lizard with a cluster of at least two halogen heat bulbs placed above the basking branch. Halogen bulbs are the best way to imitate the warmth of sunlight indoors, and considered to be a superior form of reptile heating by experts. Do not use ceramic heat emitters (CHEs), red bulbs, or blue bulbs, as these are not as effective.
Heating should be turned off at night to allow for a nightly drop in temperature. Uromastyx will generally tolerate nighttime temperatures down to 68°F.
Best humidity levels for uromastyx
Uromastyx are exceptionally tolerant of low humidity in their environment, and humidity generally isn’t something to worry about too much with this species (unless it’s particularly high, of course). As long as you have a humid hideout or burrow available, they should be fine.
Keep track of the humidity levels with a digital probe hygrometer placed in the middle of the terrarium. The enclosure should be well-ventilated and humidity should be consistently higher than 50%.
Best substrate for uromastyx
Substrate (aka bedding) covers the floor of the terrarium and helps make the enclosure more attractive, but it also helps maintain healthy joints and provides something for your lizard to dig in (which they love to do!)
We recommend the following substrates for uromastyx:
- Zoo Med ReptiSand
- Exo Terra Desert Sand
- Play sand
Substrate should be at least 4” deep and completely replaced every 3-4 months. Remove poop and urates daily, along with contaminated substrate.
How to decorate a uromastyx terrarium
An empty enclosure makes for a stressed uromastyx, reducing its quality of life. Keep your pet entertained and engaged with its environment with the strategic use of décor items that encourage it to exercise natural behaviors!
Since uromastyx are a terrestrial species that prefers rocky terrain, at bare minimum you will need a flat basking stone and a couple of places for them to hide. However, it’s best to include other items, such as:
- secure stacks of flagstone or aquarium slate
- more hiding places
- hollow logs
- live, edible plants
What to feed to a uromastyx
Uromastyx are 100% herbivorous, which means that they only eat plants. They should be fed as much as they can eat daily, with roughly 60% of their diet coming from dark leafy greens, 30% other vegetables, and 10% seeds. Vegetables should be chopped into bite-sized pieces to help prevent choking.
Provide as much dietary variety as you can manage for balanced nutrition!
Leafy greens for uromastyx: collard greens, cactus pads, spring mix, arugula, kale, alfalfa, bok choy, carrot greens, spinach, dandelion greens, hibiscus greens, turnip greens, mustard greens, parsley, romaine lettuce, escarole, watercress, clover, timothy hay
Other vegetables for uromastyx: broccoli, rapini, zucchini, cauliflower, sweet potato, bell pepper, squash, carrots, okra, sprouts, pea pods, green beans, shredded carrots
Seed options for uromastyx: lentils, white millet, finch seed mix
Edible flowers such as nasturtium and dandelion can also be offered. When flowers aren’t in season, bee pollen granules can be offered in small quantities. Fruit such as berries, mango, apple, melon, papaya, and cactus fruit can be used as rare treats.
You will also need calcium and vitamin supplements to help prevent your lizard from developing a deficiency. We recommend Repashy SuperVeggie, lightly dusted on all salads.
Of course, don’t forget a small water bowl for your uromastyx to drink from! Change the water daily and scrub the bowl with a reptile-safe disinfectant weekly, or whenever it becomes soiled.
How to handle your uromastyx
Reptiles generally don’t appreciate petting and handling in the same way that dogs and cats do. However, with patient and persistent effort, uromastyx can become quite tame and tolerant of humans.
If you want to build a trusting relationship with your pet uromastyx, you will need to develop a foundation of positive interactions. Hand-feeding with soft-tipped feeding tweezers works well as an initial bribe, and it’s best to get the lizard to come to you rather than simply grabbing it.
Here are some more tips for success:
- Don’t grab the lizard from above. Instead, scoop from below.
- Support as much of its body as possible.
- Start with short handling sessions at first, then gradually make them longer.
- Put the lizard back in its enclosure only when it’s calm.
- Handle regularly to maintain tameness.
*This care sheet contains only very basic information. Although it’s a good introduction, please further your research with high-quality sources. The more you know, the better you will be able to care for your pet!