Table of Contents
- How to select a healthy lizard
- Habitat Requirements
- What should I feed my uromastyx?
- Types of Uromastyx
For lizard lovers like myself, these hardy reptiles make intriguing, wonderful pets. Proper care in captivity is key to having a healthy and long-lived uromastyx. I will review basic husbandry such as proper housing and feeding in this article.
Commonly referred to as spiny-tail agamas, the uromastyx is indigenous to North Africa, Egypt, Bahrain, Yemen, Sudan and some parts of India. In recent years, a handful of breeders have been able to successfully breed some species.
How to select a healthy lizard
When acquiring a uromastyx lizard, the reptile must be robust and alert with no signs of malnutrition. Although importation of some species still occurs, the most desirable lizards are ones that are captive-bred. Imported animals are often in such poor condition that bringing the animal back to optimal health is not always possible due to many stress factors. Chubby limbs and a fat underside of the tail is a good indicator of health. Deciding whether to own a male, female or pair is a personal preference. Sexual dimorphism is prevalent in most species, showing more physical differences as they mature. Males tend to be more brightly colored, while females are often more subdued.
Uromastyx are generally non-social so two mature males should not be kept together! Sooner or later one will attack the other, possibly causing serious injury. Females vary greatly in temperament. Most get along fine with a male, but I have heard of exceptions. Uros are by nature territorial, and even calm animals tend to attack new individuals place in their cage.
How large should a uromastyx cage be?
Speaking of cage size, the larger the better. At the very least, the cage should be 150% their length deep, and the length should be 200% the length of the Uro. These are just minimum suggested guidelines. Arguably, many would consider these dimensions as too small. I’m a firm believer that bigger is better. It’s been said that uros are not climbers, but spend any time watching mine, and you’ll change that opinion. My terrarium is 48″x18″x18″ and my temporary tank is 2’x2’x2′. They both provide enough room to allow her to scoot around and climb. Remember, the more room they have, the better. Uros are desert lizards and are burrowers by nature. If possible, try to set it up so that the substrate is deep enough for them to “burrow.” This isn’t necessary, but a nice touch to providing a natural set up. They don’t have to be able to dig a self supportive tunnel, but they like to do the “breast stroke” in the dirt.
Lots of rocks and a suitable substrate is important. Rocks will help keep their nails trimmed as well as giving them a comfortable place to bask for heat. It is also important that the Uro has a place to sleep and provide a stress free atmosphere. This can be provided with some kind of hiding place, such as a cave. Such things can be purchased or made by appropriately stacking rocks. If this route is taken, it’s very important they’re anchored or glued, as to not collapse on the Uro causing injury.
Substrate is an ongoing controversy. Which kind of substrate to use, depends on who you ask. Calci-sand for the most part, is frowned upon the more of those you ask. The upside, is that the Uros need calcium and calcium is digestible, the down side is that too much calcium, and the Uro can develop bone problems. Sand (only washed, playground sand) has been used with very little complaints, but if any of the granules are too large, the Uro can run the possibility of not being able to digest it, and become impacted. I use Repti-sand, which is a finely ground quartz that is not harmful when ingested and clumps, like cat litter, which makes for easy clean up. It’s a bit more expensive, but well worth it. Worrying all the time about harm to your pet, is something no one needs. Update, since the writing of this page, I’ve tried numerous different substrates, and have determined that the wash play-sand to be the best suited for housing the uros. At only $4 per 50lb bag, it’s also very economical.
Heating and Lighting
First and foremost, Uromastyx are heat lovers, the ultimate heat lovers! They must have a basking site that reaches between 100F and 120F (air temp, not rock temp which will be higher yet). No, that’s not a typo, one hundred to one hundred and twenty F! This is actually easy to produce with a Zoo-Med or comparable reptile backing bulb shining over a smooth piece of slate or other suitable rock. I use a 150 watt basking bulb approx. 12 inches above the rock. Just make sure the light is placed high enough to prevent the animals from accessing it. Do NOT use hot rocks or similar “in-cage” electric underbelly heaters. These will not suffice and can cause serious injury to your animals. An under-the-tank heating pad is ok but only for supplemental heat, the basking site is still essential. The area farthest from the basking site should be in the mid 80’so F,permitting your animals to self-regulate their body temperature. This is the example of her regulating. Creating the needed variety of temperatures in the tank is not as hard as it may seem. I use the under the tank heater under half the tank, the half that will have the basking lamp. Because I’ve decided to have a relatively tall tank, I added a non-light emitting ceramic heater (250 watt) that sits on top of the tank.
Please note: If the hideout is partially under the basking light, make very certain that the material that the hideout is made of, does not conduct heat well. This can cause burns on the uro because it may not be able to detect surface heat.
Along with the basking lights, it is recommended installing a UVB producing bulb. This is need to insure that the Uro gets the proper nutrients that it would normally obtain from the sun. If the tank or cage is outdoors, then this would not be needed. Night temps should be much cooler, typical of their desert homes. Most people shoot for the low 70’s in the summer, the mid 60’s in the winter. In reality, their desert burrows probably get down into the mid to high ~50F much of the year. I suspect the difference in nightly lows isn’t critical as long as the cage reaches the preferred daytime highs. In order to ease daily maintenance and seasonal temperature changes, I have wired rheostats into the under-tank heater as well as the ceramic heater. With thermometers in 3 key areas, basking, heater side, and farthest from the heaters, I can fine tune the temperatures throughout the tank. At night in order to obtain the desired temperatures, the under-tank heater stays on, the ceramic and the basking lamp go off, and a red “night-glo” heat lamp goes on. Obviously, in the morning, the reverse needs to be done. To ease the job (or eliminate it completely), I bought 2 inexpensive timers from a hardware store, the kind that you adjust what time they turn on and off, plugged them in to 2 separate outlets, and set one to go on when the other shuts off in the morning, and vice-versa at a preset time at night. A power strip is used to handle the multiple heaters. The daytime timer, which would control the heater/basking lamp and UVB lamp, should be on only for 12-14 hours, with the remaining time for sleep.
Humidity needs to be kept at a bare minimum. Remember, the uromastyx is a desert dwelling lizard. As mentioned before, all the needed moisture is obtained through the food. I have heard, and tried, the idea of soaking the uro in warm water, but I have not seen anything to show this is a needed practice. I’ve even placed a shallow dish of water in the terrarium for a short period of time (a couple of hours) and she showed no interest in it.
What should I feed my uromastyx?
Uromastyx are primarily herbivores, with (usually) a taste for insects on the side. My primary diet recommendation is:
- Collard greens
- Kale (in moderation)
- Dandelion greens
- Mustard greens
- Turnup greens
- Dark leafy greens
- Thawed frozen mixed veggies (peas, carrot, green bean, and corn)
Also included are the more “bitter” lettuces as the escarole, endive and some napa cabbage. Napa cabbage is actually from the bok choy family as regular and red cabbage is bad for them. So far, this has not been a problem for her. Also have read that if supplemented with vitamins and calcium, peas do more good than bad. Finely chopped zucchini and carrot also are added to the mix. I tend to chop enough food for at least a week, so as to save time when feeding time comes. We recommend feeding once a day and removing the unconsumed food within 4-5 hours as since it will be pretty dried up by then. This is optional as I’ve found some uros tend to wait until things are pretty dried up. Don’t forget, out in the desert, there probably isn’t a whole lot of fresh juicy greens.
Chopped fruits, such as apple, strawberries, and other assorted berries are said to be a sought after food by the uros. Mine, however, doesn’t seem to care much for them. Approximately once a week, I’ll treat my Uro to 3-4 crickets. The crickets should not be any larger than the width of the Uro’s head. This usually holds true for most lizards. Also, unless coated with some calcium powder, the crickets don’t have much of a health advantage. Some Uros have lived comfortably on feeding every other day so you will need to familiarize yourself with the needs of your own pet. There is one thing that virtually everyone does agree on, and that is that you should not put water in the terrarium. The amendment to this, seems to be for geyri. Outdoor cages would probably be ok. All the moisture the Uro needs is obtained from the food. Too high of a humidity can create respiratory problems for the Uromastyx. Humidity is discussed on another page.
For uros that are acclimating, or seemed to have lost their appetite, we all know that this is not good. Drop in food intake, can lead to loss in metabolism, feeling bad, more loss of appetite, and so on. I’ve found that there isn’t any one sure thing that uros like. I think most will agree that each individual uro has it’s own personality and preferences. You’ll probably have to experiment in finding out what yours likes and dislikes. I’ve found that common “favorites” with many uros, may not be even liked with mine. Also, over time, tastes may change. Some of the “good” stuff that I’ve heard about and also discovered are the fresh yellow dandelion flowers (when I say fresh, I mean picked off my lawn), mustard greens, gazania rigens, commonly known as the “treasure flower”, of which Rocky goes nuts for, dry mix, and one that I got from Deer Fern Farms, bee pollen granules. If you just got the uros, I’ve found, accidentally, that the dry mix will get them eating. It’s been noted that a possible problem, is that if they’re dehydrated, the dry mix may make it worse. My opinion is that if they’re dehydrated, they’re not going to eat anything anyway. Make sure that if they appear to be not eating, that there is always a variety of food available anyway. Acclimation is kind of stressful for both the owner and the uro, but I haven’t read anything about uros not making it during acclimation.
Dry mix can be many different combinations of ingredients. Both my geyri eat daily from their supply of dry mix. It consists of dried split lentils, dried split peas, birdseed (with the sunflower seeds removed), dry juvenile iguana food, and bee pollen granules. Before Runako was eating his first fresh food (dandelion flowers) he was crunching away at his dry mix.
Needle-less Syringe Feeding
When Rocky appeared to “come down with something,” I’d just maxed out my credit card trying to save my female, so I was determined to do what I could on my own. He stopped eating, then, as he had in the past, he started to get lethargic, not moving around too much, and eyes closed most of the time. Last time this had happened, two big shots of fluids and a tube feeding turned things around. So I took it upon myself to head to the grocery store and get those baby food jars that read just like my uro’s dinner list. The vet gave me a 6cc syringe without a needle (let’s face it, I wanted to help, not make things worse), and I also picked up some pedialyte at the store. Twice a day to start, I’d take take a shot glass, not that I had any, and go 50% pedialyte and 50% baby food. Stir it up and place it in a water glass of the hottest tap water I could get. Once it warmed up, took him out and have everything ready to feed. Then, with a full syringe (6cc for a then 88 gram geyri) I’d work it in between his “lips” by the hinge of his mouth. Once he’d get a taste, he’d start “lickin’ his chops” and that’s when I’d put the whole tip of the syringe in his mouth, and start feeding it in. I found it easier if I held him at a 45+ degree angle, as he would start to open his throat area, and the whole contents of the syringe would go in. I don’t really think he’d swallow it until later, but as long as it wasn’t coming back out, I was ok with it. He didn’t stress or dislike it too much, as after, I could set him down on the couch, and he’d stroll around instead of running. I did this twice a day for about 1-2 weeks, then I would start to wean him down to once a day (twice a day here and there if I thought he’d take it in). Also, I’d start going with a bit more food and less pedialyte.
Eventually, in about 3-4 weeks, it was very noticeable that his energy, weight, and appetite came back. I now keep all the necessary stuff here in case I need it again. This is just a thought and not saying that this will help, but I can’t see why it would hurt. Rocky’s now plump enough that he looks like he’s “puffed” up in defense (little fatso). The heaviest he’s been before this, was 118gm, and as of mid May, he weighed in at 154 gm! (Note: The feeding with a needless syringe was done with Rocky because, for reasons unknown, he stopped eating, which caused his metabolism and energy to drop, cause dehydration, which in turn caused him to feel bad, therefore not to eat, and it spiraled down until he was outright lethargic. Only then did I resort to the baby food/pedialyte through the syringe.) I plan on video taping the feeding that I’ve done so people can put a “visual” to the attempted explanation.
Supplements are important because, in most cases, Uros in captivity do not get enough of the needed vitamins and calcium. There are many different brands of supplements on the market, but 80% to 90% of people aggree on the same ones. For calcium supplements, Rep-cal, which is a phosphorous free supplement with vitamin D. For a vitamin supplement, Repti-vite powder is preferred. These powders are sprinkled on the food every other feeding to every third feeding. These, along with the UVB light, is sufficient to keep your Uro healthy. As of mid-May, Rocky and Runako have been put on a liquid calcium supplement. I either inject this into mealworms or drip onto their favorite foods. It seems that the powdered calcium just didn’t agree with their palette, and therefore, they weren’t eating it. This became apparent when I noticed Rocky having “muscle tremors” while he was relaxed. These showed up as his feet and toes involuntarily moving around, seemingly unbeknownst to him. These tremors were noticed before Lizzy, my mali, died and was diagnosed as calcium efficiency. After a shot from the vet, the next day the tremors were gone, and I switched to the liquid. I also started them on a probiotic to aid in keeping their bacteria levels normal. So far, all seems well.
Types of Uromastyx
Saharan Uromastyx / Nigerian Uromastyx
Saharan or Nigerian Uromastyx are one of the smaller species of Uromastyx. They are fast becoming one of the most popular Uromastyx species to keep because of their three color morphs (yellow, red, and orange), size, temperament and their naturally non-picky nature. If you happen to get a wild caught individual, you will usually have a hard time taming it, but it can be done. Most captive bred and born Saharans will be quite tame upon arrival. Some Saharans have become Bearded Dragon tame! It all depends on your will to tame it.
Saharans have about the same care as any other Uromastyx species out there. There is only one difference. A water bowl should be offered at least once a week. Be sure to check the humidity when offering the dish. All Uromastyx species need very low humidity and very high temperatures. Please read the general Uromastyx care guide to get the rest of the care info.
Mali Uromastyx are very active, love digging, and also love heat. For hatchlings a 20-gallon tank would be fine. For juveniles a 30-gallon tank is good, and for adults a 50-gallon tank would be great. Also, bigger is always better when it comes to tank sizes.
There are a number of things that you can use for substrate such as sand, birdseed (no sunflower seeds), and newspaper. I use 1 bag of dirt for every 3 bags of sand. Or in a small hatchling cage 1 cup of dirt for every 3 cups of sand. Make sure you get sterilized dirt and sand. You can get this at the Home Depot. Uros love to dig so if you use sand or anything like it would be best if you had at least 3 inches of substrate.
You can use rocks, wood, cork tunnels, and many more. WARNING if you use rocks make sure they are places on the bottom of the actual cage and not on top of the sand, because Mali Uromastyx love to dig and if they dig under a rock that is placed on top of the substrate they will most likely suffer sever injury or die. Uromastyx need hiding spots so you will need to put a couple of caves in your cage. They need these hiding places because if they are scared they need to be able to run to a place when they are scared.
Lighting and Heating
In order to maintain their health you will need a UVB light bulb for your Uromastyx. This is needed because UVB light bulbs contain vitamin D3.
On the cool end of your enclosure temps should be at 80-90 degrees Fahrenheit. The basking spot should be on the warm end of the cage and it should be anywhere from 110-130 degrees Fahrenheit. For hatchlings keep the basking spot around 115 degrees Fahrenheit. Do not use hot rocks or anything like that they will burn your Mali Uromastyx.
Mali Uromastyx do not need a water bowl because they get all of their water from their food. If you have over 60 percent humidity in your Uromastyx cage it can be very dangerous. Uros love it hot and dry. If you want you can supply a very small water bowl in the enclosure but it is not necessary.
- Cat’s Ear
- Pansies flowers
- Hollyhock Mallow
- Hibiscus flowers
- Hibiscus leaves
- Alfalfa- (not dry hay)
- Pok Choy
- Clover leaves
- Turnip greens
- Mustard greens
- Collard greens
- Dandelion greens
- Snow peas
- Green beans
- String beans
- Rose pedals
- Sweet potato
- Dried Split Peas
- Dried Yellow Peas
- Finch Seeds- (for birds)
- Springs of millet
- Iguana Pellets- (only flowers, veggies, fruits)
- Bird seeds- (No sunflower seeds or other big seeds)