Care Sheet for the Genus Uromastyx
©1995 Randall Gray
These interesting lizards have become more popular during the last few years. Unfortunately there is little known about the genus. The following guidelines will help maintain these animals in captivity. Hopefully as more people work with the genus success stories will become more numerous. The only way to ensure better husbandry for these unusual lizard is for all herpetoculturists to share their information.
There are six species (U. aegypticus, U. ornatus, U. ocellatus, U. acanthinurus, U. hardwicki, and U. benti which are occasionally available in the United States. The other seven species are seldom if ever imported. Uromastyx aegypticus is the largest member of the genus with individuals reaching 30 inches or more in total length and weighing several pounds. The other species are usually under 14 inches in total length.
Coloration is variable between and within species. Uromastyx aegypticus and Uromastyx hardwicki are usually dark to light brown. Uromastyx acanthinurus can be yellow, green, bright orange or a combination of these colors. Uromastyx ornatus are sexually dimorphic with adult males being green or blue green with blotches of yellows and oranges. Females have more subtle yellows, browns, and some orange.
Large numbers of Uromastyx aegypticus and U. ornatus have been imported into the country during the last few years. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service estimated that 7,000 members of the genus were brought in 1994. For unknown reasons the death rate for Uromastyx ornatus is rumored to be as high as 80% during the first two months of captivity. Uromastyx aegypticus is hardier and with proper treatment adapts to captivity.
Uromastyx acanthinurus have not been imported from Morocco for several years, however, a few animals occasionally come from Europe and a only two private breeders are known to occasionally produce captive born animals. There is probably less than 100 animals in the United States. This species adjusts well to captivity even if reproductive success is not common.
Uromastyx males should be housed separately. Some herpetoculturists even house females individually and only introduce them to males during the breeding season (Matt Moyle, personal communication).
Cages can consist of glass aquariums, metal stock tanks, or wooden boxes. Sand, dirt and newspaper are often used for substrate. Rocks or other objects should be placed in the cage to allow climbing and basking sites. Any heavy objects, such as rocks, must be securely anchored or the lizard will burrow underneath causing the rock to fall and crush it. Hide boxes provide the animals with a sense of security and are especially important for gravid females.
Uromastyx can and should be kept outside during the summer or all year in the southwestern United States where temperatures seldom drop below the mid 60's F. A variety of outdoor caging types can be constructed, including a simple sheet metal ring sunk 12 inches in the ground and standing 24 inches above ground (the height is adjusted depending upon the size of the animals). Outdoor cages should be secured with a wire top to prevent predators (e.g. cats, birds, raccoons) from entering.
Under tank heaters can be used to supplement heat, however these are diurnal species and regulate their body temperature by basking in the sun. Spotlights more accurately approximately the way diurnal lizards obtain their heat naturally.
Night time temperatures should be less that the daytime highs. Temperatures should be allowed to drop into the mid 60's F.
There are several full spectrum fluorescent light bulbs on the market. Most claim that they duplicate the sun's light spectrum, however it is unlikely that any can achieve the intensity of ultraviolet light emitted by the sun. There is no scientific research supporting the assumption that these bulbs are beneficial, however there use is recommended since there is some anecdotal evidence that they provide psychological benefits to the lizards. The new Zoo Med 5.0 UVB producing tube appears to have the highest UVA and UVB of any of the full spectrum bulbs on the market, therefore it is recommended.
Many herpetoculturist soak their Uromastyx aegypticus in water and claim that the animal swells as it absorbs water. Whether the animal is actually filling up with water or only filling it's body cavity with air is unknown. Considering that this is a desert species, soaking in water seems inconsistent with adaptations to arid conditions and could lead to respiratory infections if the animal does not thoroughly dry after soaking.
Water can be provided infrequently in a bowl. The bowl should not be left for long periods in the cage or it can raise the humidity to possibly unacceptable levels. Baby Uromastyx ornatus will drink water sprayed on the side of the cage.
Young animals more readily accept insects such as wax worms, crickets, and super meal worms, which should be offered three or four times per week. The following vegetables should be offered; kale, collard greens, mustard greens, sweet potatoes, carrots, peas, corn, and green peas. In addition, dandelion greens, alfalfa, grass, and flowers can be added to the diet. Beans such as split peas, lentils, navy beans, and other should also be provided. Some of these beans can be sprouted prior to feeding. Bird seed should also be mixed in with the salad.
A reptile vitamin containing calcium should be sprinkled on the salad. Some of the commercial iguana chows can also be mixed in with the salad to ensure better nutrition.
There are some indications that nutritional needs are not easily met for this genus. Several herpetoculturists who are raising young Uromastyx aegypticus and U. acanthinurus report slow growth rates. For example, I obtained two captive born Uromastyx aegypticus that were three inches long. Within eight months one animal was five inches long and the other 11 inches and much bulkier. The only difference in husbandry was that the larger animal would eat insects and smaller one would not. I have also observed slow growth in captive born Uromastyx acanthinurus.
Apparently Uromastyx take several years to reach sexual maturity. As a comparison, North American chuckawallas, an ecological equivalent, take five to seven years to reach sexual maturity. Some of the smaller Uromastyx may reach sexual maturity in two or three years.
Christie, Bill. 1993. The Egyptian spiny-tailed lizard at the Indianapolis Zoo. Captive Breeding 1(3):20-25.
Moody, Scott. 1987. A preliminary cladistic study of the lizard genus Uromastyx (Agamidae, sensulato), with a checklist and diagnostic key to the species. In Proceedings of the Fourth Ordinary General Meeting of the Societas Europaea Herpetologica; (eds) J.J. van Gelder, H. Strijbosch and P.J.M. Bergers.
Thatcher, Terry. 1990. The reproduction in captivity of the North African spiny-tailed lizard, Uromastyx acanthinurus. British Herpetological Society Bulletin. 40:9-13
Wheeler, Scott. 1988. Husbandry of the spiny-tailed agama (Uromastyx acanthinurus) at the Oklahoma City Zoo. In Proceedings of the 11th International Herpetologcial Symposium on Captive Propagation and Husbandry. (ed) Michael J. Uricheck.
Check out other Uromastyx information at Randall Gray's Uromastyx site.
To join the new Uromastyx mailing list, send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org with the BODY containing the text subscribe Uromastyx.
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