Uromastyxs, commonly called spiny-tailed lizards, are native to North Africa, the Middle East, and Northern India. They are very popular as pets. This article explains some of their common characteristics, how to care for them, and general uromastyx lizard facts.
What Is a Uromastyx Lizard?
Uromastyx is a genus of African and Asian lizards. They are commonly called spiny-tailed lizards or dab lizards.
There are 13 different species of lizard under the Uromastyx genus. Six out of the 13 species of lizard are sometimes found on the American continent, while the remaining seven originate from other countries.
The six species found in America are:
- Uromastyx aegypticus
- Uromastyx ornatus
- Uromastyx ocellatus
- Uromastyx acanthinurus
- Uromastyx hardwicki
- Uromastyx benti
Uromastyxs have distinctive, spiky tails. These lizards are known to live up to 15 years in the wild and can live for as many as 30 years in captivity.
Uromastyx lizards vary in size depending on the species. They can grow anywhere from 10 inches to 36 inches in length and weigh up to two kilograms.
The skin color of these spiky-tailed lizards vary depending on the species. Uromastyx acanthinurus can be any one of or a combination of yellow, green, and bright orange. Uromastyx aegypticus and Uromastyx hardwicki are usually different shades of brown. Uromastyx ornatus have different colors depending on their sex. Adult males are typically green or blue green with patches of yellows and oranges. Adult females have more subtle yellows, browns, and some orange. In most species, females are usually smaller and have less colorful skin markings than the males.
The skin color in some uromastyx lizards changes due to stress and temperature. When the lizard gets warmer, its body becomes pale brown or beige with a few orange patches, while its tail becomes azure blue. In extreme heat, it has an almost white appearance. Uromastyx scale colors also become more intense as they approach sexual maturity.
Uromastyx attitudes vary depending on the species. Lizards belonging to the Uromastyx acanthinurus and Uromastyx aegypticus tend to be shy and may retreat when they see people around them. On the other hand, the Uromastyx ornatus is not usually afraid of humans.
Where Do Uromastyx Lizards Live?
Since the natural habitat of many lizards are dry areas like deserts, nature has given them a distinct way to collect water. Uromastyx lizards have a depression at the top of their heads that works like a water-collecting cup where the morning dew happily settles. Uromastyxs carry around the water wherever they go and tilt their heads to let the water slide towards their mouths when they feel like a sip.
Uromastyx lizards are well suited to thrive in extreme weather conditions in a desert. They’ve specifically adapted to the drastic temperature differences between hot days and cold nights. They have loose, wrinkly skin to expand their body to increase their surface area, which helps them absorb more sunlight during the day. Many uromastyxs have dark skin, which allows them to retain the heat even after the sun has set.
Out in the wild, uromastyx lizards are vulnerable to predators. They dig deep burrows to protect themselves from harsh weather conditions and predators.
Uromastyxs are typically more active during the hottest parts of the day. They control their body temperature by basking in the sun and retreating into their burrows when they get too hot or sense when danger appears. When threatened, they defend themselves with their spiny, muscular tails.
What Do Uromastyx Lizards Eat?
In captivity, the uromastyx lizard predominantly eats a vegetarian diet consisting of leaves, buds, fruits, seeds, plants, and flowers. The uromastyx lizard diet can also include a wide variety of vegetables, such as sweet potatoes, corn, carrots, peas, kale, and mustard greens. It’s a good idea to give them beans and lentils for protein and to dust some of their food with vitamins.
Uromastyxs are highly territorial creatures who live alone and only come together to mate. Uromastyxs become sexually mature at two years. Sometimes, males turn over females and walk in a circular path over their abdomen. Although the exact reason for this characteristic is unknown, it could be due to the bond between the two lizards in the male’s territory.
Female uromastyxs burrow deep into the ground to keep their eggs at a constant temperature. Females can lay between 5 to 40 eggs at once. The eggs can take as many as 60 days to hatch after being laid. Once the eggs hatch, young spiny-tailed lizards venture out without support from their parents.
Building a Home for Your Spiny-tailed Lizard
Uromastyxs need space to move around, and their natural dwellings are deep underground where conditions are humid. Make sure to give them enough room to eat, drink, bask, and sleep. It’s ideal to maintain humidity levels at 10% to 35% with a burrow box that can reach 45% humidity. Keep a water reservoir nearby to help with the humidity and for them to bathe in.
Since lizards are cold-blooded, uromastyxs rely heavily on their environment to help regulate their body temperature. Set up a basking area with a daytime high temperature of 120 degrees Fahrenheit. The rest of the enclosure should be about 80 to 90 degrees.
Vets generally recommend using an overhead light source to maintain optimum temperatures. You can use incandescent, infrared, or special reptile basking lights for this purpose. Use these lights for daytime heating but turn them off after dark to avoid disturbing their sleep cycle.
Building a comfortable home for a uromastyx lizard takes time and effort. Uromastyx lizards also need time to get attuned to their new habitat, so it’s essential to be patient in the process. Try to reproduce these conditions in the environment you build for your uromastyx.
Uromastyx Lizard Care
Uromastyx aegypticus and Uromastyx ornatus are popularly kept as pets. However, Uromastyx ornatus has a high mortality rate in the first two months and needs extra care during this critical time. The reason may be that they have a more challenging time acclimating to the climate when in captivity. The Uromastyx ornatus is specific to the extreme desert in steep, rocky, hot wadis, so it’s essential to recreate this specific habit for them in captivity.
These spiny-tailed lizards often form white crusts around their nostrils. That is not a cause of concern and is due to salt-gland secretions inside the nose. They also shed their skin often. Keeping their enclosure humid can ease the shedding process.
Here are some common health conditions that can affect uromastyxs:
- Respiratory conditions. Symptoms include breathing difficulties caused by inadequate care, unsuitable temperatures, humidity, and poor nutrition. Sometimes, this may lead to fatal infections.
- Bacterial infection. If you notice lumps or bumps in your lizard’s skin or joints, this could be a sign of bacterial infection. In some cases, this can also indicate gout or hyperparathyroidism.
- Gastrointestinal diseases. Watery excretions and vomiting are common signs of gastrointestinal conditions caused by infections or nutritional deficiencies.
- Nutrient deficiency. Inadequate sunlight or ultraviolet rays may cause nutritional deficiencies and lead to body disfigurements. It can also make your lizard susceptible to broken or swollen limbs and cause death in extreme cases.
If you notice any of the above symptoms, take your lizard to the vet.