What to Know About the Ornate Uromastyx

Reviewed by Vanesa Farmer, DVM on November 27, 2022

The ornate uromastyx lizard is so beautifully decorated that at first glance, you may mistake one for an elaborate ceramic figure. These desert-adapted creatures are the most colorful lizards in their genus. They thrive in the wild and do well in captivity — at least when they’re properly taken care of. Make sure you know what to expect with this species before bringing one home.  

The ornate uromastyx is one of fourteen species of lizards in the Uromastyx genus. Their scientific name is Uromastyx ornata. Ornata or ornatus is Latin for “ornate” or “decorated.” Another common name for the species is the ornate mastigure. 

Related Uromastyx species include the:

  • Egyptian uromastyx 
  • Indian uromastyx
  • Moroccan uromastyx
  • Somalian uromastyx

There are two subspecies of the ornate uromastyx — U. ornata ornata and U. ornata philbyi. They’re both native to the Middle East, including the countries of: 

  • Egypt
  • Israel
  • Saudi Arabia
  • Yemen

Few Uromastyx species are imported to the U.S. U. ornata is one of the few that you can commonly find in this country. 

Their preferred habitats are rocky areas in the desert where they can both bask and hide. They like to burrow over 3 feet into the ground for shelter.

Ornate uromastyx are gorgeously colored with plenty of individual variation. Males have green bodies with blue and red spots mixed in. Dark brown bands covered in yellow spots span their backs. These colors are brightest during mating season. 

Females are duller, with less green and blue on their bodies. Both have white undersides. The juveniles aren’t born with these colorful traits but develop them over time. 

The ornate uromastyx size is rather large for a captive lizard. Adults grow to an average length of 14 inches. They have low, wide bodies that appear slightly flattened. They have four well-formed limbs with long toes. Small spines are present on their upper thighs. 

Ornate uromastyx have long tails that are slightly flattened on top and covered in spines. They’re composed of 20 to 23 different segments. 

The exact ornate uromastyx lifespan will ultimately depend on how well they’re taken care of. In captivity, members of the Uromastyx genus can survive for 20 to 25 years. Expect a long life with this lizard if you want one as a pet.

Of all of the Uromastyx species that are available in the U.S., U. ornata is the easiest to tame. The lizards in this genus can be very shy and become stressed out with human contact. But U. ornata has an easier time adjusting to this aspect of captivity. 

You should handle them regularly to increase their familiarity with human contact. Each one has a distinct personality, so there’s no guarantee that your lizard will ever be entirely tame. 

In the wild, these lizards are rather territorial. They might live alone or in small groups. The groups typically contain one male and multiple females.

Ornate uromastyx are omnivores. In this case, this means that they eat both plants and insects. When they’re young, you should give them insects three or four times a week. This includes: 

The ornate uromastyx may continue to eat insects into adulthood, but most Uromastyx species prefer entirely vegetarian diets. At least 70% to 85% of your ornate uromastyx diet should consist of: 

These salad mixes should be sprinkled with bird seeds and a reptile vitamin that contains calcium. This will improve the nutritional quality of your lizard's diet. It’s a difference that can significantly benefit their health. You can even find commercial iguana chows that can round out your pet’s overall diet. 

You should also provide them with regular snacks including: 

  • Green beans
  • Corn
  • Peas
  • Dried beans — and occasionally sprouted beans
  • Walnuts
  • Almonds
  • Bird seeds
  • Sunflower seeds
  • Seed sticks designed for parrots  

In terms of water, these desert-adapted creatures can get a lot of it from their food supply. You can also occasionally mist their tank to provide them with water to lick. This is especially helpful for baby lizards. 

But don’t add a bowl of water to your tank — it can make the overall humidity too high for your pet.

Before bringing one home, ensure that you’ve created a suitable living environment for an ornate uromastyx. We don’t know as much about the native environment of each Uromastyx species as we do about other lizards. In general, you’ll want to create a desert-like environment.

You can use a glass aquarium tank, metal tank, or wooden box. Use a mix of sand, dirt, and newspaper for your substrate. Also include objects like rocks and boxes to give your pet places to both bask in the sun and hide away. 

Just keep in mind that this lizard will burrow. You need to secure large rocks so they don’t burrow under them and become crushed from above. 

In terms of temperature, these lizards like it hot. During the day, one spot in your tank should reach between 110 degrees Fahrenheit and 130 degrees Fahrenheit. The rest of the tank should be between 80 degrees Fahrenheit and 90 degrees Fahrenheit. At night the temperature should significantly drop down to temperatures between 60 degrees Fahrenheit and 80 degrees Fahrenheit. 

Badly lit tanks can cause your lizard to eat poorly, behave strangely, and have duller colors than they otherwise would. You need to use special light bulbs that emit UVB light at a high intensity for at least four hours a day and an intermediate intensity for eight hours a day. You should also change the amount of light throughout the year to reflect changes in the outdoor environment. 

You should also fog up the tank once or twice a week with a humidifier. This will help provide moisture. Just don’t let humidity levels rise too high.

In certain areas — like the southwest U.S. — you can keep your lizard in an outside cage. But in the rest of the country, you should keep your pet indoors.

While raising your ornate uromastyx, you should constantly keep an eye out for signs of health problems. This includes:

  • Bumps on their skin and at their joints — these could be a sign of a nutritional problem, gout, or a bacterial infection 
  • Runny stool — this could indicate a parasite or intestinal issues
  • Duller, darker coloring — this is a sign of an immune issue or an infection
  • Recessed eyes — this indicates either dehydration or gout

Make sure to find a veterinarian that’s familiar with Uromastyx. They can be a difficult species to raise and maintain. They require thorough care and attention from their owners. Keep these details in mind before choosing to bring one of these stunning pets home.

Show Sources

Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora: “Uromastyx ocellata Lichtenstein 1823.”
iNaturalistUK: “Ornate Mastigure (Uromastyx ornata).”
Melissa Kaplan’s Herp Care Collection: “Care Sheet for the Genus Uromastyx.” 
The North American Veterinary Conference: “Working With Uromastyx Lizards.”  
The Reptile Database: “Uromastyx ornata HEYDEN, 1827.”

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