Uromastyx Habitat, Heating, Housing & Substrate

Housing

Uromastyx are generally non-social. Two mature males may 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. 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

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.

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