Uromastyx lizards make great reptiles to keep, especially for those who do not want to feed livefood. These, often colourful, lizards are in a way the vegetarian equivalent of a bearded dragon (they belong to the same family), a similar size (some are smaller and one is larger) with similar heat and light requirements (a bit hotter though) and are almost as interactive (although some individuals can be a little shy).
There are a number of different species (out of 18 in total plus sub species) of Uromastyx generally available. These all have similar environmental (check for your species on specific measurements) and food requirements.
North African Uromastyx (Uromastyx acanthinura nigriventris)
The natural range of the various species of uromastyx is north of the equator from north Africa round into the Indian sub continent. With the variety of sizes there is also a variety of maxium ages, with the Egyptian uromastyx generaly being the largest and longest lived. 15 years is a good average age for any uromastyx although 30 years has been reported for a captive specimen.
Uromastyx need it hot and dry. Due to the high basking heat levels you will need a larger vivarium that for similar sized bearded dragon. This is not because the uromastyx needs more space as such (although I am sure it will appreciate it) but due to the need to maintain a sufficient temperature gradient for you uromastyx to effectivley thermo regulate. In a small viv. with such a high temperature basking area you will inevitably be raising the temperature across the whole viv. and your “cool end” will not be cool enough. We would recommend from 3′ to 6′, depending on species and size of the uromastyx. Personally I would recommend a wooden viv. that will keep the heat in, with a good quality thermostat to prevent overheating. Trying to keep the temperature up in a glass viv. that looses heat readilly could cost a bit in electric and the life cost of any pet should always be taken into consideration before getting one to avoid having to pass it onto a “resue center” when it becomes too expensive to maintain.
High daytime temperatures are very important to a uromastyx. They are a diurnal lizard (active during the day) and spend nightimes in a burrow away from predators. Night time temperatures can fall quite low, 18C (in a normal house you could switch all heating off at night or have a small heat mat if your house is consistently cold at night). Day time temperatures are kept high. Ambient temperature needs to be around 38C at the hot end and around 26C at the cool end with a basking spot temperature of 48 to 60C. In trying to keep a temperature this high it is essential to have correctly sized heat equipement and a good quality thermostat to prevent overheating your uromastyx. With all uromastyx the brightness of the lighting is also important so using bright incandescent or halogen lamps for the basking area heat is best.
As said, bright daytime lighting is essential for a uromastyx. Not only does it stimulate feeding behaviour is also brings out the best colours. Generally the uromastyx colours only really show when they have heated up in bright light. UVB is also critical to the continued good health of the uromastyx. WIthout adequate levels of UVB they cannot absorb calcium from their diet and will get seriously ill. In fact on a really hot day (30C plus) a uromastyx will love basking in a secure area outside. You cannot get a better UV source than the sun! In the vivarium use either a minimum of a 10% UVB fluorescent tube (which will need to be changed at least every 9 months) or a combined heat and UVB mercury vapour or metal hallide basking lamp (these cannot be regulated by a thermostat so size correctly).
It is a good idea to ensure there are multiple levels (use rocks or ledges) so not only can the uromastyx find a wider variation in temperatures but also so it can bask nearer to the UVB source (not too close if using a combined heat and UV source, it must not be able to touch it). UV light does not travel very far from the light source and the strength of the UVB rays deteriorates rapidly with distance. A deep substrate will provide burrowing media but hides placed around the viv. are a good supplement/alternative. Make sure any rocks cannot fall and crush your uromastyx and that hides are placed throughout the enclosure so the uromastyx can lay up at night and get out of the high temperatures during the day in a temperature needed at that point.
A deep substrate that can hold itself together and provide a burrowing medium is a good idea. We tend to use Lucky Reptile desert bedding as it can hold a bit of humidity at lower levels, so best replicates the wild environment. It also looks the part! I would avoid pure silica sand (play sand) as there is a higher risk of impaction and I don’t like calci sand myself for the same reason. Others do use these substrates and claim to have had no problems but I would rather avoid the risk. You can also use more utilitarian substrates but they do not have the structure to form burrows or localised humidity.
In the wild, Uromastyx eat vegetable matter. In extremis they will eat insects but this is only done when vegetable matter is unavailable (drought conditions) and no alternative is available. The animal protein is thought to cause harm to the internal organs (especially the kidneys). In captivity vegetable matter is obviously always available so insects should not be given. A variety is best for your uromastyx. Green leaves such as rocket, unsprayed dandelion etc. are good for uromastyx. Avoid brassicas – cabbages etc. as these contain oxylates that bind up dietary calcium, making it unavailable to the uromastyx metabolism. Squashes, carrots etc (finely chopped or grated) can also be given and proprietary brands of herbivore food (usually sold for iguanas, tortoises etc.) make a good store room standby. Dusting food with a little calcium powder daily is a good idea but restrict vitamin powders to weekly as it is possible to overdose vitamins. If you are giving plenty of variation of fresh foods to your uromastyx additional vitamins will not be necessary more that once a week. If feeding a balanced, fresh diet a uromastyx will rarely drink water (some highland and coastal species may). You may wish to present a water dish once a week but do not leave it in the vivarium for too long (an hour is adequate) as with the high heat levels it will quickly evaporate and raise the humidity. This is harmless in the short term but leaving a water bowl in the vivarium all the time can be detrimental to the health of the lizard (consistently high humidity will make it susceptible to respiratory infection). I don’t bother with a water bowl.
All the Uromastyx we have had have been docile. I have never been bitten or even tail whipped by one although anything with a jaw could bite I suppose. Consequently they make great “pets” although they should not be kept out of the vivarium for too long ( a couple of hours is fine) as they do need the high temperature and UV levels.
The Angell Pets Team