Uromastyx spp.

Order: Squamata

Husbandry Information

  • Housing Requirements

    • In daytime, need a basking spot of 120°F  or more, with general hot side temps between 100-110°F, and a cooler side around 80°F. Nighttime temp around 70 degrees. Use a temperature gun to check for variation.
    • Provide a pile of rocks under the basking spot, preferably also with a cave, to act as a heat sink at night.
    • Provide a cave on the hot side and cool side.
    • Daily light water mist helps with shedding.
    • Natural Encounters Department, Houston Zoo: We give ours a 100 watt basking bulb with a sturdy pile of rocks beneath it in a V433 Vision cage.
    • Consider providing a natural substrate, or alternatively a sizeable “burrow box” composed of sand or vermiculite, soil, and clay for digging.

    Diet Requirements

    • In the wild, uromastyx are mostly herbivorous, eating various greens and flowers. Because they live in a desert, they will get most of the needed moisture from the food they eat. Some sources state this species is actually omnivorous, and will take insect prey.
    • In captivity, they are fed spring greens, seeds and lentils, squash, edible flowers.
      • Leafy greens such as romaine, kale, escarole, red leaf lettuce, dandelion, arugala (rocket), should be offered daily.
      • Some grass and/or hay should also be included regularly to increase fiber content.
      • Shredded carrots, zucchini, and sweet pepper may be offered sparingly.
      • Bird seed can also be offered weekly, or bi-monthly.
      • Vitamin and calcium supplements are also recommended.
    • Generally, most captive uros will have no interest in drinking standing water, as most of their moisture is absorbed from their well-hydrated food. A small dish of water can be offered, but it should not be too large as to increase the humidity in the enclosure.

    Veterinary Concerns

    • Females may become egg bound.
    • Philadelphia Zoo uromastyx lizards had repeated problems with bladder stones and edema. It is unclear if it is just this group of animals or a larger trend with this species. All of the lizards at PZG were related.
    • Plants like kale and spinach, containing calcium-blocking oxalates, should be kept to a minimum.
    • Diet should be supplemented with ReptiCal or similar calcium powder.
    • Uromastyx lizards have a special gland near the nose that excretes mineral salts, which helps with water conservation in their arid environment. Don’t be alarmed by the occasional appearance of white crusty deposits around your animal’s nostrils-these easily brush off.

    Notes on Enrichment & Training

    • Check out the Reptelligence Facebook page and Reptelligence website for enrichment and training inspiration.
    • Be careful with or do not give dried alfalfa or hay. Ours will gorge on it.
    • May enjoy browse items such as mulberry or hackberry, or dandelion greens and flowers (untreated).
    • Enrichment Ideas:
      • Tubing to climb through
      • Changing the enclosure furniture periodically
      • Offer different food items. They can eat from a person’s hand (best way is to offer with your palm open, like feeding a horse).


Colony or Breeding Management

Notes species is housed or managed socially or for breeding purposes.

Individual Identification –Dimorphism or practiced ways to individually mark species (such as those in colonies).

Uromastyx are variable in coloration, making individuals easily identifiable.

Programmatic Information


Temperature Guidelines



  • Brandywine Zoo: small lizard travel in a Coleman “Party Stacker” type cooler that has been amended with extra ventilation holes on the lid (with a wood-burning tool). The cooler is lined with newspaper and, during cool weather (under 65°F), supplemental heat is provided with a hot water bottle (wrapped in newspaper)

cooler     hot water bottle

Tips on Presentation

Touching Techniques

  • At Brandywine Zoo: Guests are directed to use a two-finger touch only on the back, not near the head or face, and going in the direction of the scales.

Tips on Handling

  • This is a very easy species to handle. Most individuals will sit calmly on an open palm without needing to be restrained.
  • Can be active when handling so it’s good to have a container to put them down in if needed during a presentation. In general, our uromastyx seeks interaction with keepers and rarely appears stressed during presentations.
  • Houston Zoo, Natural Encounters Department: We allow guests to touch our uromastyx on her back with her face turned away and her tail controlled, always followed by hand sanitizer.
  • You may also use a “seatbelt” old, where the index and middle fingers are placed in front of either shoulder, on either side of the neck.
  • If the animal becomes “squirmy,” often elevating the head at a 20-45° angle helps calm them.


Potential Messaging

  • Desert species have specific adaptations for the temperature and water availability in their natural habitat and may not be able to adjust to the drying effects of climate change. Drought conditions kill the plants that hold the soil in place and occasional extreme rain events wash that soil away preventing them from growing back in a process called desertification. Greenhouse gas emissions from burning fossil fuels contribute to climate change by trapping heat in the atmosphere. Please ask guests to walk, bike, or take public transportation when possible and to reduce their use of fossil fuels when they do drive by buying a fuel economic car, carpooling, combining errands, and keeping vehicles properly tuned up and their tires properly inflated. At home and work, purchase Energy Star appliances, turn off lights when they are not in use, and use heaters and air conditioners sparingly. The principles of reduce, reuse, and recycle will also help by decreasing greenhouse gas emissions involved with the manufacture and disposal of unnecessary goods.http://www.unep.org/geo/gdoutlook/045.asp
  • http://www.epa.gov/climatechange/wycd/
  • Encourage responsible pet ownership. In general, animals seen at the zoo do not make good pets. Most have specialized dietary, veterinary, housing, and social needs that are difficult or impossible for even dedicated pet owners to meet.
    • Always ensure that your future pet has not been taken from the wild. Capture of wild animals for the pet trade has significantly damaged the survival prospects of species such as sloths, tamanduas, and many parrots.
    • Captured animals are typically mistreated by profit-motivated traffickers and dealers, resulting in many animal deaths; well-meaning animal lovers may feel like they are rescuing animals by purchasing them but are really perpetuating the cruelty. In addition, many exotic pets are released by their owners when they become too dangerous or demanding, often with devastating effects on local ecosystems.
    • Animals that should never be kept as pets include all bats, primates, and exotic carnivores. Birds, fish, and reptiles have specialized needs, are frequently wild-caught, and damage the local environment if released; guests should be advised to educate themselves and proceed with caution. Domestic dogs and cats are almost always the best option! Many deserving animals are available for adoption at animal shelters. http://www.philadelphiazoo.org/Save-Wildlife/Images/PetWalletBro2012.aspxhttp://pin.primate.wisc.edu/aboutp/pets/index.html


Acquisition Information

Uromastyx are often readily available through animal rescues.

There is a group on Facebook called “Uromastyx Club” which has a breeder list in the group files. Can find breeders for many of the various spp. here.

Look for specialty/exotic rescues:

Comments from the Rating System

  • Downtown Aquarium, Denver: Very good for anyone to handle, a little more exotic than bearded dragons. A favorite among staff! More of a touching animal, not as clear messaging.

Natural History Information

Range and Habitat

Uromastyx maliensis are indigenous to the deserts of Mali, Africa but other species of uromastyx lizard can be found in desert habitats of Africa and Asia.

Physical Description

Male uromastyx maliensis can easily be distinguished from females: males have yellow backs and black heads, legs, and tails. Females, on the other hand, are uniformly yellowish-brown. Often, males can also be identified by the presence of large femoral pores with waxy protuberance and hemipene bulges.

  • Egyptian Uromastyx can reach up to 30 inches and weigh several pounds
  • Mali Uromastyx, one of the smaller species, are typically 10-14″

Life Cycle

Four to six weeks after mating, females will lay 5 to 40 eggs (the number varies depending on her size.) The eggs will hatch 2 to 3 months later. Uromastyx can live 8 to 10 years in captivity.


Takes to its territorial burrow in the evening to sleep. In the morning as the temperature increases, they will drag themselves to the base of their burrow to bask. Once warm enough, they will eat desert plants, including acacia. They tend to stay within running distance of their burrows to hide if a bird of prey comes along. They brumate in the winter (when day time temperatures are consistently below 70 degrees Fahrenheit).

Uromastyx lizards are territorial, especially towards those of the same sex. Males will often actively patrol an area and keep out all other adult males. Females will behave similarly towards other females – and even towards males.
They will dig burrows in the sand; these burrows are used for shelter, to escape from predators, and to cool down during the day.

Threats and Conservation Status

Uromastyx maliensis are listed on CITES Appendix II.

Habitat degradation is a concern. IUCN lists this species as “Least Concern,” but some sources indicate that the species might actually be endangered (perhaps even critically).

Did you know…

  • Their well-armored tails are used as a defensive weapon; uromastyx can block its borrow entrance with the tail, thus deterring predators from entering.


Any Documents to attach, species spotlights, etc.


Cover photo:

Arpingstone [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Ashley presenting Morocco
Uromastyx presentation at Natural Encounters, Houston Zoo.


Contributors and Citations

  • The Philadelphia Zoo
  • Houston Zoo, Natural Encounters
  • Brandywine Zoo

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