Uromastyx lizards also known as Spiny-tailed lizards are in a class of their own. They are not as common as other pet reptiles such as leopard gecko or bearded dragon, but they make great pets for reptile lovers or enthusiasts.
Uros are typically herbivorous and require extra-large habitat with a regular source of fresh food every day. Provision of good housing, proper feeding, and general care – invariably translates to a happy and healthy uro.
Uromastyx is a genus of African and Asian agamid lizards. There are at many known species of uros there are 18 different currently known as stated by taxonomists, as well as many more subspecies and varieties.
They are found in the wild in parts of Africa, the Middle East, Asia, and India. And they come in different fancy names – Spiny-tailed lizard (derived from the 10 to 30 rings of spiked scales covering the top side of their tail), Dabb lizard, Mastigure, Spiny-tailed agamid, or merely the Spinytail – whichever works well for you.
Interestingly, some people see uromastyx as the smaller, pet version of dinosaurs – thanks to its razor-sharp spiny tail with which it whips around in self-defense when threatened by predators. In fact, their name derives from ancient Greek and translates into two words, “tail” and “whip.”
Uromastyx Lifespan & Size
Determining the average lifespan of spiny-tailed lizards in captivity is a little tricky. This is because a large chunk of the information available was from imported uros who begin their captive life at an unknown age.
Although uro lifespan has been known and recorded to exceed 30 years, it’s safer to keep the average lifespan to 15 years. Most of the adult uros range between 10 – 18 inches in length, but the Egyptian uromastyx have been seen to exceed 30 inches in length. Hatchlings measure between 3 – 4 inches in length.
Uromastyx Facts & Characteristic
Spiny-tailed lizards, mostly because of their background in the northern Sahara Dessert, can tolerate extremely high temperatures and retain water for longer periods than most other pet reptiles.
They are easily excitable and so can get nervous pretty easily. In the wild, they make a bee-line for spaces between rocks when they are startled. Uros inflate themselves to fit in or wedge themselves in between rocks making it difficult for anyone or anything to pull them out of the rock, against their will – with extra fortification provided by the back of their tail that feels very much like little razor blades.
Relax! Uros will probably never bite a human under normal circumstances. However, if you corner or startle it at night or while it’s hiding – then it might (in self-defense) whip its tail in your direction.
Uros also bite other uromastyx while fighting to defend their territory and can grasp their partner’s jaws a little roughly – during mating attempts.
Spiny-tailed lizards are, for the most part, herbivores. So avoid giving them excess protein in a bid to spoil them with ‘nourishing food’ – because doing that could spoil their kidney. Hence, their diet should contain a lot of dark leafy greens.
While collard greens, escarole, dandelion greens, endive, mustard greens, radicchio, and prepackaged spring mixes can form a major part of an uro’s diet, lentils, beans, split peas, and some seeds such as millet, should be added to the mix for some vegetable protein.
Feed uros 5 – 7 times per week. But indeed, how much they eat depends on size, level of activity and appetite per time. Start by offering around ½ cup of greens every day. Chop plant matter and present it to them like a mixed salad. Place food in a shallow dish so they can easily spot the food.
Generally, uros love to eat seeds, but they also find red, white and yellow flower blossoms quite stimulating. Once in a while, you can grate some veggies like carrots, sweet potatoes, or squash and blend them in with the greens. They’d love you for it.
It often comes as a surprise that uros need an extra-large habitat. You wonder, “What’s an uro going to do with all of that free space?” Well, they need a lot of room for grazing and digging – the kind of space you wouldn’t ever consider for other pet reptiles.
Uromastyx cage can be created from plastic, wood, glass, melamine, or metal. Just make sure the cage (whatever it is made of) can handle high temperature and intense lighting. This is why glass and metal cages may not be ideal because they lose heat faster, meaning they’re costlier in the long-run.
Aside from material, the size of the cage is equally important. Below are some appropriate cage dimensions based on an uro’s size:
- Less than 10 inch uromastyx (25.5 cm) = 36 x 12 inch (91 x 30.5 cm) cage
- 10-15 inch uromastyx (25.5-38 cm) = 48 x 18 inch (122 x 48 cm) cage
- Greater than 15 inch uromastyx (38 cm) = 56 x 24 inch (142 x 61 cm) cage
Uros also need wide-ranging temperatures for activities such as basking and relaxing. For this purpose, you can create two sections in the cage – hot end and cold end.
Install hot incandescent basking lights for the hot end and cooler fluorescent lights for the cold end. As well, make available a UVB light through which uros get their daily supply of Ultraviolet rays.
Here are some specific guidelines for an efficient uromastyx cage:
- Go for a well-lit cage with a gradual temperature gradient ranging from 80-100 degrees F (26.5-38 C)
- Attain basking zones of 120 degrees F (49 degrees C) or more
- Don’t leave actual cage temperatures to chance. Make use of an effective thermometer at both (hot and cool) ends of the cage
- Make sure to replace the UVB light once every 6 months
For best padding results, use a substrate such as sand that lines the base of uro cage. Insert 1-2 inches (2.5-5 cm) of sand at the bottom/base of the cage. And only use ‘washed play sand,’ avoiding sand kept for sandblasting or industrial use, like a plaque.
On the alternative, use a small seed or grain, like millet.
Take note that some substrates, including sand, paper mulch, walnut shells and wood shavings, can lead to gut impaction if accidentally swallowed by a lizard. Perhaps, you should research your options and consider the accompanying risks before making a final decision. And, remember always to place your uro’s food on a dish to avoid mistakenly ingesting substrate.
Generally, you should keep your uro’s cage clean: Scoop substrate daily, remove food scraps, and wash dirty food dishes. Like most pets, uros also need routine vet care. When you first get your uro, take it to your vet for a clean bill of health. After that, (except the need arises in between) you should take them to see the vet – say, once a year. Where feasible, a vet that specializes in reptiles is ideal.
Even if you have no veterinary experience, you should at least watch out for the following symptoms: Weight loss, swollen joints, discolored skin, runny nose/eyes/mouth, and hiding from view more than usual – these telltale signs are a quick reminder to visit your vet.
Uro females tend to be particularly aggressive to burrow intruders of both sexes during the breeding season. Uros generally mate in April while eggs are laid a month after fertilization. Mating season range from March – July, and breeding takes place like once a year.
Eggs take roughly 8 – 12 weeks to hatch, and the freshly hatched uro weighs anywhere between 4 – 6 g. The baby uro stays on in their mother’s burrow from a few weeks to a few months, and they too become sexually active as from 4 years of age.