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The Care and Breeding of Spiny-tailed Lizards

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This entry deals with the species of reptiles known as Uromastyx maliensis, also known as the spiny-tailed lizard or dab lizard. The husbandry of Uromastxy in any subspecies is a rewarding experience for those who are willing to take the time and expense to properly house and care for such animals. As with all care of animals in captivity, care and dedication to the health and well-being of the animal must be of the upmost priority.

What Does it Look Like?

Uromastyx maliensis are reptiles ranging from 12" to 18" in length. They have a turtle-like head, strong jaws with molar-like teeth situated far back in the mouth and a series of teeth in the front of the mouth. They possess a squat body, strong legs with sharp claws for climbing and digging and a large, meaty, spiny scaled tail. The colouring of Uromastyx maliensis consists of a black or sandy base colour, yellow ocellated spots and black head, tail, and legs. Some female Uromastyx maliensis are rather drab in colour compared with males. There are, however, some 'male-mimic' females who exhibit the male colouring.

Uromastyx Maliensis in Captivity in the USA

Importation for pet trade began around 1992. Imports before that were to educational facilities and zoo collections. These were imported as Uromastyx acanthanurus until Jogger's1 definition of Uromastyx maliensis was accepted in 1998. Little information was known about the husbandry (the keeping and care) and breeding habits of Uromastyx maliensis at that time. This was due to no studies being done on the species in their native habitat. Many animals died during the first few years in captivity. Many herpotoculturists - or 'herpers'2 - relied on information culled from keepers and breeders of Uromastyx aegyptius aegyptius which have been kept in captivity since the early 1970s. The husbandry for these two subspecies are very similar with the exception of enclosure requirements. However, there were still many fatalities. These were due mainly to lack of husbandry information and large amounts of parasitic infestations in wild caught animals.

General Husbandry


Coming from an arid environment, these animals require high heat but low humidity. They also require a moderate amount of space in their enclosures. As Uromastyx maliensis have a maximum adult length of around 18" the enclosure for this species should be no smaller than a 55-gallon aquarium or equivalent enclosure. It must be constructed with the ability to maintain high heat and low humidity in its design. Insulating materials are definitely a benefit. If your animals are to be 'showcased' then glass should be used instead of plexiglass as the latter scratches more easily. Uros should be housed either separately or in breeding pairs. Care should be taken when housing in pairs and if aggression is observed you should separate the animals. Males should not be housed together as aggression or intimidation will be a factor.


The issue of substrate is controversial at best. Many different types of substrates are available. All substrates have advantages and disadvantages. A lot of the selection process depends on individual likes and dislikes. Play sand is the type of substrate that is currently used but others include alfalfa pellets, calci-sand, river sand, indoor/outdoor carpeting, newsprint or birdseed. Play sand is cheap, clean, and easily cleaned. Play sand should be placed in the enclosure approximately 3-4" deep, as Uros tend to burrow. Alfalfa pellets are adequate for substrate and have the added benefit of being somewhat digestible, though they do tend to go mouldy if moisture is presented to the enclosure. Calci-sand is marketed as a calcium supplemented substrate and is purported to be digestible by the manufacturer. There have been some concerns as to digestibility as there have been some instances of blockages in animals kept on calci-sand. There are also some concerns that the animal may ingest too much calcium this way and develop overdoses of calcium that can cause calcification of certain internal organs. River sand is a good alternative in that it is easily available and cheap. However, if some of the larger pebbles are ingested, it may in fact cause intestinal blockages. Indoor/outdoor carpeting and newsprint are adequate substrates and easily cleaned. These, however, prevent the animals from their natural behaviour of burrowing and should be used in quarantine enclosures or hospitalisation enclosures as these substrates make obtaining faecal specimens easier. Birdseed (also known in Uro-circles as Jeff Fisher's Urostrate) is a new idea for a substrate. As the name implies, Jeff Fisher has been researching this substrate and using it for his animals for the last year or two with no harmful effects. Jeff simply uses commercial wild bird seed that he places in his freezer for between four and six hours in order to kill off any moth eggs or larvae.

Lighting and Heating

Lighting is a very important aspect of husbandry of Uromastyx. It is generally well known to experienced herpers that two types of lighting are needed for healthy animals. One is for heating requirements while the other concerns providing ultraviolet 'B' which is necessary for the metabolism of calcium. Let's take the issue of UVB first. The most common sources of UVB lighting is with fluorescent light fixtures. There are many different types of fluorescent bulbs with varying degrees of UVB output. Many hobbyists believe that most reptiles do fine with anywhere between 2.5% and 7% UVB output. Uromastyx fall into this category but most Uro owners tend to lean towards the higher end of the spectrum. Unfortunately, these bulbs are quite expensive and they do degrade quite quickly. It is suggested that you only keep your UVB lighting for a maximum of 6 months before you change out the bulbs. This will maximise the amount of UVB that is available to your animals. There are some incandescent bulbs on the market that claim to be 'full spectrum'. These bulbs are usually only radiating through the UV 'A' spectrum and lack in or are severely depressed in their UV 'B' output. Always be sure to check the labeling for the output. You can also contact the manufacturer for more information UVB lighting that is provided by some type of bulb should be no higher than 18" from the animal. You may also wish to provide your Uromastyx with natural sunlight during the hotter summer months. Be advised though that this will most likely be a stressful experience for your animal. It is believed that this is due to the amount of birds and other animals that are present and in view of the Uro. Birds are one of the primary predators of Uromastyx and therefore the site of strange birds are stressful. Uromastyx who have been exposed to natural sunlight often revert to a near-wild state and behave accordingly by hiding and fleeing from you until they once again feel safe. One other solution has been presented by Audrey Vanderlinden by using a product from GE. This would be their Sunshine Full Spectrum Lighting fluorescent bulb3. This product does not list a spectrum analysis and to this date has not been performed. However, Audrey has used this bulb for a number of years with no evidence of MBD (Metabolic Bone Disease) or other calcium deficiency related disorders.

Now for some words on heating. Since Uromastyx are ectothermic4 animals they need to self-regulate their heating requirements. This is most easily done in a manner which simulates their native environment. By providing a basking spot, a couple of hiding caves and a thermal gradient5 in the enclosure you can simulate an environment very similar to the natural one. It is not recommended that you use of any of the commercially-available hot rocks or any variation thereof. These devices have been notorious for causing burns on the animals that they are intended to be used on. There have been many articles written on the horror stories of damage done to various animals that have been caused by a faulty hot rock device. It is felt that heat provided from above greatly simulates natural heating from the sun. This is the way that the animal is able to absorb heating more efficiently. Heating is provided by the use of either incandescent bulbs of high wattage or by the use of Ceramic Heating Elements (CHE). Temperatures at the basking spot should be somewhere in the range of 110 - 150 degrees F. for Uromastyx maliensis. Other sub-species of Uromastyx have differing maximum heating requirements but almost all of them are within this temperature range to some degree. The ambient temperature (average temperature of the air) should be between 80° and 95°F during the daylight hours. Temperatures in the hiding cave can be somewhat cooler during the daylight hours. Night time temperatures should drop no lower than 65°F (although there have been some reports of lower temperatures in the native environment). Heating is an important aspect of Uro husbandry. Being an ectothermic animal, Uros need heat to properly perform the digestion process. Too much heat for a long duration of time can be harmful to your animal and this is the reason behind the temperature gradient. Uros are quite adept at self-regulating their body temps.


Uromastyx are predominantly vegetarian in nature. The main ingredient of their diets are greens, seeds, beans and the occasional insect. Greens are an extremely important aspect of the Uromastyx diet. Water requirements are met through the absorption of moisture from the various greens and flowers that are ingested. As water is scarce in the natural habitat of Uromastyx it is important to provide fresh greens. Beans and bird seed are also prime components of the diet as they provide many nutrients that may or may not be found within the make-up of various greens. Beans and seeds also provide a level of roughage that is also needed for a well balanced diet. There is currently some debate on the amount (if any) of insect matter that is ingested by Uromastyx. Some researchers of U ornata (a closely-related subspecies) have not observed any predation of insects in the wild. This leads one to believe that the insect component of the Uromastyx may in fact be incidental. It is known that too much insect matter can cause an over-abundance of protein in the diet which in turn causes gout. All greens, beans, and seeds should be cleansed completely to remove any pesticides and insecticides. It is acceptable to leave the drops of water on the food to provide a larger amount of water and to simulate dew deposition. Do not leave an open water source in the enclosure as this will raise humidity levels and may cause respiratory disorders to occur in your animals.

Common Medications and Home Remedies

Common medications and their uses are as follows:

  • Fenbendazole - (Panacur or Safe-T-Guard, always check the label for the active ingredient) - used for eliminating nemotodes and roundworms - orally, either through paste or granules, then again two weeks later. It can be diagnosed by checking the faeces for small worms.

  • Droncit - (Used for eliminating tapeworms but must be prescribed by vet) which is injected into front thigh muscle. The recommended dosage is a ratio of med to weight (pills normally used for dogs are okay if proportioned to weight). Dose the animal once and clean the cage. It can be diagnosed by examining faeces and observing rice-like particles.

  • Metronidazol (Flagyl) - Used for treatment of diarrhoea caused by common flagellated amoebas - identified by very watery stools often very poorly formed or with no real definition at all (may be clear or brown, but not maroon). Often a distinct strong odour is present (most healthy Uro stools don't smell much). Other symptoms include rapid weight loss, and the tail bones become very prominent (mostly from dehydration as well as fat loss). Dosing usually takes place daily for the first two-to-three days, then every other day. Clean the cage out completely every day. You must continue the dosing for a few days after the diarrhoea is gone.

  • Albon - For treatment of coccidia. Symptoms are similar to protozoan infections but the animal often has blood in the stool (making the stool maroon), which is best observed by placing a fresh faecal pellet in alcohol to dissolve the blood; the alcohol will turn dark red. Dose similarly to Flagyl. Dose regimen should last at least seven days. It's a common problem in bearded dragons but less so in Uromastyx.

  • Baytril - Used for swollen tissues, joints (soft swelling); other general infections are not associated with metabolic bone disease or not easily cultured. Generally, this is given in association with Flagyl as they work synergistically. The dosage is the same as in coccidia, which should be given under the supervision of a veterinarian.

  • Tri-optics S Crème - For eye infections, used as directed by veterinarian.

  • Bactracin - For minor skin abrasions and occasionally for eye infections, used as directed by veterinarian.

  • Lotrimen - For fungal infections.

  • Silvadine Crème - For fungal and skin infections.

  • Pedialyte - Used to re-hydrate animals and stimulate appetite. Doses are administered by dropper method or tubing. You should offer as much as the animal will ingest as long as faeces does not become runny.

  • Neo Calglucon - Used to boost calcium levels quickly as in animals with MBD or gravid females. Doses are administered by dropper method or by tubing. Dosage 1 cc per 1 kg or .1 cc per 100 g.


The breeding of Uromastyx maliensis in captivity has proven to be problematic at best. Most breeders and herpetoculturists agree that for the highest chance of success you must provide some sort of bromating6 period for your animal. To bromate Uromastyx maliensis, reducing lighting and heating gradually is recommended to simulate cyclical changes in its natural environment. It's also suggested that food should be reduced during this time as this will simulate naturally-reduced food sources in the wild and will effectively reduce the amount of food particles in the hind gut. There have been occurrences of death in subject animals that may in fact be due to the presence of food in the hind gut during bromation. This food has been allowed to effectively rot in the hind gut providing a rich source of nutrition for bacterial infestations which can cause the demise of affected animals. This has been most noted in animals that have been allowed to enter a deep bromation period.

By mid-December, keepers try to reduce the time of lighting to around eight hours per day with mid-day basking spot temperatures in the 110-115°F range. Some herpetoculturists do not do a deep bromation method with their animals but prefer what has been termed as a 'passive' bromation. By this it is meant that time, temperature and food is reduced to a level that is lower than normal but is by no means as low as is reported by Randall Gray to be necessary for successful breeding. It has been proven (by Audrey Vanderlinden and others) that deep bromation is not entirely necessary to facilitate mating behaviour. It is preferred by some to lower these factors to an extent that the animal is able to slow down the intake of food and behaviour and to choose to bask on occasion and even eat lightly if needed. It is believed (according to recent reports on wild populations of U ornata by Troy Jones) that not only Ornates exhibit this behaviour but most likely Maliensis also do this. This assumption is based on the fact that the temps in the region of Mali sometimes are high enough to promote basking behaviour.

Some limited breeding behaviour has been noted with certain specimens after allowing a brief 'passive' bromation period. Most experts agree that some form of bromation is necessary for Uromastyx maliensis. Bromation typically lasts between six and eight weeks under normal conditions. Care should be taken during bromation and the animal should be checked periodically but not unduly disturbed. Upon removal from bromation it is recommended that you bring up the animal's temperature to normal levels in a quick fashion. During this period the animal should progressively be brought up to a natural regimen of diet and basking temperatures. If there is any abnormal behaviour during this re-habitation period seek medical attention immediately.

Breeding should take place around March through April and possibly even into May. Males should exhibit familiar mating rituals such as head bobbing, side nipping of females and aggression towards other males. Supplemental calcium can be given at this time to help with egg formation in females. Use of Neo Calglucon with female specimens is recommended. Males should be mounting females around this time. If a female is non-receptive she will display this by rolling onto her back thereby preventing insemination by the male. If the male is able to inseminate her, she may then become aggressive towards the male. If this happens, you should separate the animals until long after egg deposition. Some breeders recommend separation of the two genders and only introducing them to each other during breeding season/attempts.

Egg deposition should occur around one month after insemination of the female. Incubation of the eggs should be in a medium of sand, vermiculite, or other such substrate with a 7:3 ratio of substrate to water. The eggs will need to be incubated in a small container with a few pinholes in the lid (to retain humidity levels) at 90 to 92 degrees F for 85 to 95 days. After deposition of the eggs the female is extremely dehydrated and week. She needs to be hydrated with pedialyte and neo calglucon. Offer as much of these as she will take and continue this treatment for a few days. Also be sure to offer a regular diet of greens, seeds, and beans. It is not uncommon, however, if the females do not eat right away. The eggs must be removed as soon as possible and placed into the nesting material (if the female has not laid them in it already). There are differing thoughts on whether the eggs need to be buried, partially buried or just placed on top of the substrate. There have been both successes and failures using both methods. As stated above, hatching should occur somewhere after 85 days and before 95 days (there have been reports of hatchings after 110 days though). Hatchlings should be around 2" STL and weigh in at 6 to 8 grams. The diet for hatchlings is the same as the adults being careful to finely shred all greens and finely grind beans. Given the proper diet hatchlings should grow fairly quickly for the first couple of years before a general slow down of growth is noticed.

Online Resources

There are numerous online resources available now that Uromastyx have received so much publicity in the pet arena. As more captive husbandry is experienced you can expect it to be reflected in the online arena. Most sites dealing with husbandry can be found utilising any good search engine so not all of them can be listed here. The Uromastyx Home Page by Troy Jones however is a site that this Researcher considers to be the most inclusive and helpful.

Taxonomy and Locality of Uromastyx

The following Taxonomy are listed for those who may be interested in the biological data involved.

  • Class Reptilia; Order Squamata; Suborder Lacertilia (Sauria); Family Agamidae (53 genera, 300 species); Species Uromastyx 15 subspecies of Uromastyx including Uromastyx acanthanura acanthanura (Bell, 1825); Uromastyx acanthanura dispar (Heyden, 1827); Uromastyx acanthanura geyris (Muller, 1922); Uromastyx aegyptius aaegyptius (Forskal, 1775); Uromastyx aegyptius microlepis (Blanford, 1874); Uromastyx asmussi (Strauch, 1863); Uromastyx benti (Anderson, 1894); Uromastyx hardwicki (Gray, 1827); Uromastyx loricata (Blanford 1874); Uromastyx ocellata ocellata (Lichtenstein, 1823); Uromastyx ocellata ornata (Heyden 1827); Uromastyx ocellata macfadyeni (Parker, 1932); Uromastyx ocellata philbyi (Parker,R 1938); Uromastyx maliensis (Jogger 1998); Uromastyx princeps (O'Shaugnessy 1880); Uromastyx thomasi (Parker, 1930).

  • Most commonly species of Uromastyx found in captivity are Uromastyx maliensis, Uromastyx acanthanura acanthanura, Uromastyx benti, Uromastyx hardwicki, Uromastyx aegyptius aegyptius, Uromastyx aegyptius microlepsis, Uromastyx ocellata ocellata, Uromastyx ocellata ornata.

  • Uromastyx are found in Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Mauritania, Lybia, Sudan, Tchad, Mali, Niger, Egypt, Israel, Arab Peninsular, Iran, Iraq, Syria, Jordan, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, India, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Djibouti, Eritrea, and Oman.

1Jogger is a German Herpetologist.2A person who studies and/or keeps reptiles and/or amphibians.3This Researcher has no connection with GE, nor is this meant as an endorsement.4An animal the uses external heat to perform biological functions such as digestion and metabolisation of minerals or nutrients.5A variation in temperature from one portion of an enclosure to the other.6A time of pseudo-hibernation period of reduced activity that can last for months at a time.

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