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Keeping Reptiles Newsletter
Vol 2, Issue 7    
May, 2006
Care Sheet For The Genus Uromastyx
In this Issue

Having recieved some recent correspondence on Uromastyx I was prompted to look a little more at this interesting and hardy lizard.

Originally published in News from the North Bay 2(3):10-12.
Reprinted from the Pacific Herpetological Society Newsletter, Vol.10, No.10, October, 1995.
As reprinted in the Cold Blooded News, Vol.23, No.1, January, 1996.

by Randall L. Gray

Uromastyx dispar

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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 approximately 13 species in the genus Uromastyx. These lizards are adapted to arid regions and are found from Northwestern India throughout southwestern Asia and the Arabian Peninsula to the Sahara of Africa (Moody 1987). Members of this genus are referred to as dab lizards or spiny tailed lizards.

There are six species (U. aegypticus, U. ornatus, U. ocellatus, U. acanthinurus, U. hardwicki, U. benti) which are occasionally available in the United States. The other seven species are seldom if ever imported.

U. 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.

Uromastyx aegyptius

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Coloration is variable between and within species. U. aegypticus and U. hardwicki are usually dark to light brown. U. acanthinurus can be yellow, green, bright orange or a combination of these colors. U. 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.


Behavior differs between species and even individuals within the same species. Some U. acanthinurus and U. aegypticus, can be very shy, often retreating to a hide spot when someone approaches the cage. Others, U. ornatus, will often be tame. Individuals differ in their behaviors and you can find exceptions to the above generalizations.

Large numbers of U. 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 U. ornatus is rumored to be as high as 80% during the first two months of captivity. U. aegypticus is hardier and with proper treatment adapts to captivity.

U. acanthinurus have not been imported from Morocco for several years, however, a few animals occasionally come from Europe and only two private breeders are known to occasionally produce captive born animals. There [are] probably less than 100 animals in the United States. This species adjusts well to captivity even if reproductive success is not common.

The presence of large femoral pores with waxy protuberance and hemipene bulges can often distinguish males, however this is not obvious on all species. Males tend to have broader heads but this is often subtle or misleading. U. ornatus are the easiest to sex due to enlarged femoral pores on the males and adult males are more colorful than females. U. acanthinurus can be extremely difficult to sex. Probing does not work with U. acanthinurus and may not be a useful tool for the genus.

Most lizards are territorial, which means that the male and sometimes the female will defend an area from members of the same species or even other species. Often in captivity two male lizards will fight openly. Even if aggression is not overt, the submissive male can be adversely affected. Research with green iguanas indicates that submissive males in sight or smell of a dominant male have slower growth rates.

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).

Each species of lizard is adapted to specific environmental conditions. Knowledge about a species macro and micro habitat is critical in designing a cage setup, however limited information is available regarding habitat type for each species of Uromastyx. Generally the species are found in deserts, therefore they are best kept in desert set ups.

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 60s 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.

These lizards are adapted to hot desert conditions. The cage should have a daytime hot basking spot where the temperature exceeds 120°F, however the lizard must be able to retreat to areas in the low 90s. Incandescent spotlights can provide hot basking spots. The wattage selected depends upon the size of the cage. Thermometers should be placed at both ends of the cage and monitored to ensure a proper temperature gradient.

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 60s F.

Ultraviolet light is believed to be important for most lizards. Unfiltered sunlight (i.e. not through glass) is the best sources of ultraviolet light and lizards should always be exposed to sun whenever possible.

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 their use is recommended since there is some anecdotal evidence that they provide psychological benefits to the lizards. The new ZOOMED full spectrum bulb appears to have the highest UVA and UVB of any of the full spectrum bulbs on the market, therefore it is recommended.

Most desert species are adapted to live without free water. U. ornatus comes from the Sinai Peninsula where it rains less than 2 inches per year. Many species obtain moisture from the food they consume. There is evidence that some species, such as the Australian Moloch and North American horned lizards, collect morning dew on their scales which is then channeled toward the mouth.

Many herpetoculturists soak their U. 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 U. ornatus will drink water sprayed on the side of the cage.

Uromastyx are omnivorous which means they consume both animal and plant materials. Since there is no data about the specific nutritional requirements of this genus, a large variety of food items should be offered.

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 U. aegypticus and U. acanthinurus report slow growth rates. For example, I obtained two captive born U. 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 the smaller one would not. I have also observed slow growth in captive born U. acanthinurus.

Several zoos (Christie 1993, Thatcher 1990, Wheeler 1988) and private breeders have successfully bred U. aegypticus and U. acanthinurus. However reproduction is not a regular occurrence. All breeders provide a winter cool down to stimulate reproduction.

Apparently Uromastyx take several years to reach sexual maturity. As a comparison, North American chuckwallas, 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 Herpetological Symposium on Captive Propagation and Husbandry (ed) Michael J. Uricheck.

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Purchasing a Snake

There are several different types of sources from which you can purchase snakes. The obvious one most people think of is the local pet store. Also, this is probably where most impulse purchases are made. Some people will buy a snake because it looks pretty to them, even though they don't know what to look for to select a healthy snake or how to care for the animal once they get it home. Unfortunately, a lot of the snakes purchased on the spur of the moment like that end up dead before too long. In general, I think today's consumers are better educated about snake keeping techniques than they were back in the 1960's when I got my first snakes; but I also believe that if even one snake dies because the owner was ignorant of its needs, it's a shame. However, when a first-time snake owner brings their new pet home and it dies, I hope that person won't get discouraged and totally give up on the hobby. Remember, it's possible that they didn't even have a healthy animal to begin with. I just want someone in that position to get more educated about all aspects of selecting and Snake Keeping Tips and Techniques before they buy their next one. That way they can get properly set up and give their new pet the home it deserves. Then both the snake and the owner will be happy, and that's what this book is all about.

Other than in pet stores, snakes can also be purchased from people you meet at herp society meetings, or through advertisements you find in the local paper or in national reptile magazines. Snakes can be safely shipped cross-country, so you aren't limited to only the local dealers. However, some shipping mistakes can be fatal; so all else being equal, it's better to purchase locally if you have a responsible source within reasonable driving distance. Obviously, there's no way I can tell you the best place to make your purchases. That depends on the species you're looking for and in what part of the world you're located. If you check around, you'll find many honest people that truly care for their animals and try to provide their snakes the best possible living conditions. But beware because there are also people out there that just want to make a buck. I hope that you will be selective about who you deal with. You should get recommendations from friends and/or talk to several people that have snakes for sale before you decide to buy.

Choosing a Healthy One

When you are evaluating a potential purchase, ask the owner about the history of any animal you're considering. You should find out if it's ever been sick and ask about its feeding history. Probably the one most important requirement you should insist on is that the snake be captive-bred. Animals that have spent time out in the wild have a much greater chance of having been exposed to disease causing organisms, and they are more prone to be nervous captives. It's not possible to be 100% sure about the health of a prospective purchase, but if you look for the following indicators, you will be able to rule out snakes with obvious problems.

The first thing I do when I'm evaluating a snake's health is look at it in its cage. You may be able to get an idea of the conditions under which the snake has been living. You should look for accumulated feces, parasites, and foul water. On the other hand, the cage may have been cleaned for the first time in weeks just before you got there, so don't assume anything.

When a snake is handled, it should appear alert and interested in what's going on around it. The snake should flick its tongue with some frequency as it looks about, and these tongue flicks should be fully extended from its mouth with the two prongs of the tongue separated from each other, not stuck together by mucus. There should be no mucus in the nostrils, nor any bubbling out of the mouth. You should not be able to hear any rumbling or ticking sounds as the snake breaths. All of the above symptoms are possible indicators of respiratory infection. A buildup of "cheesy" matter under the lips or bleeding gums are indicators of a disease called infectious stomatitis, commonly known as "mouthrot." You can check a snake's gums by gently pushing its lips out of the way. Alternatively, if you pull down on the skin under the lower jaw, you can easily inspect the lower gums. (Hold the snake's head firmly and control its body.) At the same time, look for excess mucus. Running a thumb up the underside of a snake's neck a few inches, working towards the head, sometimes forces mucus into the nostrils of a sick snake. If the snake looks fine up to this point, you can be pretty sure your subject is healthy -- up front anyway. If it's necessary, the snake's mouth can be gently pried open by using a smooth, blunt instrument.

Next Edition: Choosing a Healthy One

Question and Answer

I have a 7 foot Red-tailed Boa and my friend has a 7 foot Burmese python. He is moving and wants to leave it with me. The only problem is that I would have to keep them in the same enclosure. I have a large enclosure over 6 feet in length and 24" tall and 30" deep.

Do you think I could keep them in this enclosure without them fighting? I notice they are sometimes kept together in per shops but I have never tried it myself.

I only ask you opinion, not a guarantee that things turn out OK.

As they are about the same size, initially it should not in theory present a problem but snakes of different species should not be kept together as a general rule. They are predators after all and in the wild they are known to eat other snakes.

olive python eating carpet

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The burmese will get significantly larger - up to about 18ft. You need to be sure that you want to keep a snake that will get to 12 ft relatively easily (within a few years) and then continue to grow. Some people have devoted whole rooms to burmese pythons. The other issue you will have with the burmese is that once it gets quite large, no-one wants to take it off your hands. That's why there is a population in and around Florida - people dump them.

I think this photo of an olive python and a carpet python might help your decision.


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In the News
Tell Us What You Think!

If you have a story about one of your critters, funny or serious, found a great web site, found a great article or would like to contribute in any way, please contact me. I'm friendly, don't bite and would welcome your contributions.

And of course, if you have any suggestions for upcoming issues that you'd like to share with us, please send those too!

These could include:
- Great herp web-sites
- A fantastic herp article you know of that should be shared
- Why you pet reptile is fantastic
- A great idea you had
- Funny things that happened
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- Images you'd like to share
- Care sheets for your herp

Remember - there are lots of people who would love to hear your stories. Just e-mail me at: Reptile-Cage-Plans

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Tell Us What You Think!!

Thanks to those who have given me feedback. I always want to know of your achievements, good and bad.

I've just added a section on making cages waterproof. There are a number of ways to do this and I have covered some of those options.

I have also added "How to Make a Reptile Cage Stand in Five Easy Steps" to the bonuses. Those of you have purchased the plans are welcome to download it. It is about 25 pages and has detailed steps. It is aimed people who have not made something like that before. There is a picture on the website of what a finished stand would look like.

I am currently finalising a book on making glass vivariums and should have that available within a month or so.

I have also some plans for a 3'x3'x18'' display type cabinet with side doors. This should also be available within a month or two.

Thank you to those people who continue to give me feedback and help others in their endeavours. You know who you are so well done!!

I have a few ideas for some other additions to the book and perhaps some other publications but I would love your input.

These could include:

  • Great herp web-sites
  • Why you pet reptile is fantastic
  • Funny things that happened
  • Dumb**s things that happenedS
  • Images you'd like to share.

Remember - there are lots of people who would love to hear your stories. Just e-mail me at: Reptile-Cage-Plans

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