Have you heard of uromastyx? At first glance, the name wouldn’t register as an animal. Maybe a spare part of a machine would be more like it. But yes, uromastyx is an animal. It’s a lizard, and it can be raised as a pet just like the more popular gecko and iguana. It is also known as “spiny-tailed lizards”.
Uromastyx comes from two Greek words, “oura” meaning tail, and “mastigo” meaning whip or scourge. Despite their spiny tails, uromastyx lizards are less fierce-looking than iguanas. If you like lizards for pets, you may try uromastyx. Here’s how to care for them.
More About Uromastyx Lizards
In order to successfully raise uromastyx lizards as pets, we need to understand them better. Uromastyx lizards have a rather flat body. What makes them different from other lizards is their tail. It is large and forms one-third of its body. Uromastyx is also called a spiny-tailed lizard because its large tail is covered with ringed spines.
Although its basic color is gray, there are uromastyx lizards with red, green, and yellow colors. They have different colors, depending on the species, of which there are 16 of them. Sometimes their color changes depending on their stress levels and body temperature.
Uromastyx lizards are known to have come from the dry deserts of Northern Africa and the Middle East. Those in captivity have been recorded to have lived from 10 up to 20 years.
Expert Tip: They can grow from 10 to 30 inches, again depending on what species it is. Usually, males are bigger in size, have broader heads, and have brighter colors than females.
Enclosure and Tank Size
Like other pet reptiles, uromastyx lizards can be contained in reptile terrariums. For a young uromastyx lizard, a 20-gallon (or more) terrarium would suffice. For a single adult, a 40-gallon tank would be the minimum. And if you have a breeding pair, a 75-gallon tank would be needed.
Making a sliding front door of the terrarium or tank would make it easier to access the lizards. Instead of a glass terrarium, a plastic container can be an option. Since uromastyx lizards are used to dry climates, it would be better to simulate their original habitat for any enclosure that may be built for them, especially when they have grown bigger.
Hunter Briggs an experienced reptile breeder, suggests that the enclosure be 5 feet long, 2 feet wide, and 2 feet tall. If you have space enough to make something bigger than this, so much the better. Length rather than the height of the enclosure is necessary because uromastyx lizards are terrestrial animals.
While some lizards climb up trees and walls, uromastyx lizards tend to roam on the earth’s surface or burrow underneath it. Definitely, the terrariums must be sealed to prevent predators. Uromastyx lizards are not known to escape from their enclosure.
Housing for Uromastyx Lizards
The major elements in a terrarium are the substrate, basking, hide box, basking light, and a UVB lamp. Extra care in choosing substrates is of utmost importance. For juvenile uromastyx lizards, use white proso millet as substrate. Millets are common bird seeds. Because it is also their food, it will serve as both bedding and snack.
Making bedding that can be food would free you of worries about your pet ingesting something that could cause impaction or the hardening of feces in the intestines, which is fatal to these animals.
Expert Tip: Never use these kinds of substrate: commercial products, wood shavings, barks, chips, crushed walnut shells, or calcium carbonate sands. All of these can choke your pet when ingested by them. Again, it will cause impaction or intestinal blockage.
For adult uromastyx lizards, it is best to use sterilized sand and soil. Prepare the sand and soil to be thick enough so they can scratch and dig to create burrows. They are burrower animals. Again, this would mimic their original habitat. There is a need to be careful though when it comes to thick substrates, especially in bigger enclosures.
It is possible that as they burrow underneath, they may bump into rocks and other hard objects which could cause fatal injuries. Bare floors or non-porous tiles can be good options as the flooring of enclosures in lieu of sand and soil substrate. In this case, cleaning would be a lot easier.
Tiles that are too smooth though, might make movement difficult for uromastyx lizards as they could slip and slide. This kind of enclosure would be good if your pet tends to eat substrate. See to it that there is no material in the enclosure that would absorb moisture like wood chips and moss as this may cause a high level of humidity.
The presence of alfalfa, mulch, and coconut fiber may create health problems. If eaten, these may also cause impaction. Decorate the enclosure with a flat rock to be used as basking rock and a hide box made of any material like a wooden box. Uromastyx lizards like to bask in the sun. Actually, it’s to specifically, metabolize calcium.
The hide box would function as a cooling place and shelter. When there is no sand and soil for a substrate, the hide box also functions as their burrows. These additional items would make the uromastyx lizards feel at home.
Temperature and Lighting
Uromastyx lizards have the ability to self-regulate their body temperature by moving back and forth from a heated side to a cooler side of their enclosure. On one end, they need to bask under the heat of up to 120 degrees Fahrenheit. When there is no sunlight, a basking light can be used for this purpose.
Using a dome lamp with a clear “infrared” heat lamp bulb or a floodlight, a basking spot can be created. On the opposite end, they need to cool off under 80 degrees Fahrenheit temperature. At nighttime, they can tolerate up to 60 degrees Fahrenheit. But if it gets lower than this, an intervention must be done. A heat-emitting system must be applied.
Uromastyx lizards are diurnal animals. This means it follows the rhythm of the day and night cycle. It is awake and active during the daytime and sleeps at night. To provide the condition of daytime, a UVB (ultraviolet B) lamp can be installed and put on during the day in addition to the existing basking light.
UVB exposure of 10 to 14 hours a day, allows them to metabolize calcium. Uromastyx lizards are known to stop feeding when the lamp is off. If you notice that it is not eating, check the light. The UVB lamp may be turned off during nighttime.
Humidity is a condition when there is too much moisture in the atmosphere. For uromastyx lizards, humidity must be controlled because a high level of humidity can prove fatal to these animals. At all times it should be below 35%. Humidity can be measured through an instrument called a hygrometer.
Expert Tip: To regulate humidity, circulation must be improved by opening vents within the enclosure. This would lower down humidity. Humidity can also be controlled by stopping misting and evaporation from any source within the enclosure.
Uromastyx lizards have the ability to source out water from the food they eat. But still, it would be good to provide a small dish for water in the enclosure. Make sure the water is filtered, dechlorinated, and replenished regularly.
Although uromastyx lizards are omnivores meaning they can eat both plants and animals, they would fare well if fed with a combination of leafy greens, beans, and vegetables. They like to eat insects. But there have been some studies that too much protein can cause health problems.
Suggested food is romaine lettuce, carrots, split peas, sweet potatoes, crushed beans, corn, peas, arugula, squash, kale, lentils, alfalfa, white millet. They can be given calcium and multivitamins every third or fourth meal.
The problem of impaction may be prevented if they are given only the meals you provide and not the food particles they get on the substrate. This can be done if you raise the feeding spot at a higher level. See to it that they do not get overweight. Maybe once in a while, they can be given insects and meat as treats.
Potential Health Issues
Uromastyx lizards would live longer if you care for them well. Ingesting their substrate can be very hazardous as this will cause impaction or blockage of the intestines. Signs that this is happening is when they are constipated or strained in their bowel movement. They also become dehydrated.
Dehydration can be remedied by feeding them moist food such as fruits. Avoid treating them with home remedies like mineral oil. Doing so may aggravate medical treatment. If worse comes to worst, better bring your pet to the vet.
Expert Tip: Other identified health issues of uromastyx lizards are metabolic bone disease, tail rot, and respiratory infections. The high humidity level is the main cause of tail rot and respiratory infections
When infection sets in, it slowly eats away the tail. On the other hand, bacteria are the cause of respiratory infections.
The throat, eye, and nasal tissues are inflamed. This is why it is extremely important to maintain humidity below 35%. When they are not exposed to sunlight or UVB light, the metabolic bone disease will occur. Sunlight which is simulated through UVB light helps uromastyx lizards to metabolize calcium.
Their bones become brittle and deformed. You see here the wonder of nature. The ability of uromastyx lizards to heal themselves by basking in the sun. Again, providing a basking rock for your pet cannot be overemphasized. Uromastyx lizards are also prone to host parasites. A regular visit to the vet would prevent this to happen.
Their known predators are dogs, cats, snakes, monitor lizards, and raptors like owls, eagles hawks, falcons. This is the reason why their enclosure must be sealed. Instinctively, uromastyx lizards would tend to scuttle and hide even when it is just a shadow that passes over them.
Behavior and Temperament
It would take time for uromastyx lizards to acclimatize to their new environment. But eventually, they will come around. During the day, they would tend to sit on its basking rock to gain heat, go under their hide box, or dig in the sand. They are territorial especially the males.
To mark their territory, adult males secrete bodily glands. It is expected that some vicious fights can happen if they are raised together. During their fighting, they would bite the sides of their opponent which would produce colorless scars. They would also whip their tails against their enemies.
Because of their aggressive behavior, it is suggested that only one uromastyx lizard be housed individually in one tank. Or one male with 3 females in an enclosure and be closely monitored. Females do not exhibit this behavior though.
Some people would recommend raising a male and a female together and some would discourage it because a pair of male and female uromastyx lizards can be adversaries. too.
Expert Tip: Uromastyx lizards can hibernate from 2 to 5 months during the winter months. They do this when food is difficult to find. They have to conserve their energy by hibernating.
Hibernation ends when food is aplenty once more. During mating, males try to attract the attention of females by doing some head swinging and push-up displays. They also chase the females during the mating period.
How To Bond With A Uromastyx Lizard
Are you ready to take on a uromastyx lizard for a pet? Just like any relationship, bonding with them is built through time. If you are a beginner, here are some tips on how to tame a uromastyx lizard.
1. Believe that any uromastyx lizards can be tamed
Although it would be easier to tame a baby uromastyx lizard, adult ones even those captured in the wild can be tamed, too. Just handle it nice and easy and do not expect immediate results. Some would take a year or more to warm up.
Just imagine how good it would feel if your pet will come to you and enjoy sitting on you. A sure sign that an adult uromastyx lizard is docile, even at the first meeting, is when you hold it and it sits calmly on your hand. The wilder ones tend to skittish away and hide when you come close to them.
2. Give time for your new pet to acclimatize
Hide and not eat for a few days? This is normal for a newly-arrived uromastyx lizard. You can wait for up to 2 weeks before handling your new pet. Just make your presence feel like sitting beside the tank.
You know things have improved when it does not hide when you pass by. When you feed them, just put your hand in the tank and be still. Then put some food in your hands. Even if it does not come to eat just continue doing this pattern.
3. Hand feed your pet
Do not put food in the tank. Instead, put the food in your hand. When hungry, your new pet will slowly approach your hand for the food. This is the time to hand feed.
4. Slowly stroke your pet
While feeding, take this opportunity to pet your pet. Do not let your hand come from above because this is the approach of predators and this would scare them. Reach out for your pet from a low level or from below. Gently caress the bath of its head. Don’t touch the tail.
5. Hold your pet
When your pet allows you to feed it with your hand and would not skittle away when your hand is in the tank, it’s time to hold it. If it climbs onto your hands, let it walk to your other hand. After a few switches, you may bring it out of the tank but don’t take too long. They easily get cold when out of the tank. Repeat this process for some days.
Expert Tip: Remember don’t stroke the tail. It is their defense and it might be threatened when you touch it. There is even a possibility that being threatened this way, will bring back its initial animosity and you may have to start from zero once more.
6. Don’t rush things
Just let things flow between you and your pet. All relationships need time. Spend some time with your pet as often as you can. It’s better to take things slowly, one day at a time so that the trust between you and your pet would come naturally and strongly.
If one is planning to raise uromastyx lizards for pets, now is the right time. There are more people out there to exchange knowledge and tips about how to improve and make raising uromastyx lizards a more fulfilling and satisfying experience. To raise any pet is to be in a relationship.
The more you know your pet, the more you love it and the more you love it, the more you are able to serve and care for it better. And vice versa thank you for following. Do feel free to contact us with your comments and questions.