Spiny-tailed lizard (Uromastyx): species profile

Unlike bearded dragons or leopard geckos, spiny-tailed lizards are no ordinary pets. It’s a rare find, but you’ll usually hear it by the scientific name uromastyx, or uro for short, in reptile owner circles. Due to trade regulations, only a few countries allow this odd-looking reptile to be exported, making it difficult to obtain. If you’re lucky enough to find one, you’ll find this lizard’s care and disposition make it a delightful pet. Based on its diet alone, this herbivore costs far less to maintain than its cricket-eating cousin. Spinytails live in the wild in parts of Africa, the Middle East, Asia and India.

Species Overview

Common name: Spiny-tailed lizard, uromastyx, uromastyces, mastigures or dabb lizard

Scientific name: crucian carp

Adult size: 10 to 18 inches

Life expectancy: 15 to 30 years

Behavior and temperament of spiny-tailed lizards

The spiny-tailed lizard is like a small, gentle dinosaur, waving its tail to defend itself against predators. The reptile’s name comes from an ancient Greek word meaning “tail,” “whip,” or “whip.”

It is a natural burrowing animal that lives in deep tunnels up to 10 feet long. The reclusive nature of this pet leads to its shyness in captivity. Most spiny-tailed lizards hide when you try to handle them. However, some will tolerate gentle handling, and some will be eaten straight from the owner’s hands.

These lizards have strong jaws and bites can be painful, but they rarely do; it’s usually a defense mechanism.

Due to the territorial nature, male spiny-tailed lizards may behave aggressively towards other males. Therefore, either keep one male per group or live alone.

Among most lizards in the pet trade, this is the least expensive of all lizards to maintain. You may need to spend about 15 minutes a day looking after this pet.

Place a spiny-tailed lizard

A large terrarium or fish tank (40 to 55 gallons) is required to hold the spiny-tailed lizard. Sun exposure is a must, and there are plenty of sizable places to hide, climb, and eat.

A securely stacked rock tower is the perfect basking spot, and commercially produced reptile shelters between scattered logs and rocks should provide your pet with plenty of options for burrowing or cooling themselves.

Once the enclosure is set up, you can automatically set the heater and lights on a timer to make things easier. You will need to remove everything and deep clean the lizard’s entire enclosure monthly. Between deep cleanings, you’ll need to spot clean or scoop up visible feces.


Provide heating with heat lamps. All cold-blooded reptiles regulate their body temperature by moving around in their environment. The basking area on one end of the tank should be about 120 degrees Fahrenheit, while the cooler end of the tank should maintain a temperature of 90 degrees Fahrenheit. At night, the lizard’s shell can be lowered to the 70s to replicate its natural desert setting. For lighting, you can choose from ceramic lamps, or blue, red or white heat bulbs.


Spiny-tailed lizards require adequate UVB exposure from fluorescent or mercury vapor bulbs. Buy bulbs with at least 8% to 10% UVB output (higher UVB output is also very good and preferred). And make this bulb cycle 12 hours to mimic the sun going up and down.

Place your lights 10 to 12 inches away from where the lizards are basking in the sun. Since the mesh screen blocks most of the light’s UVB rays, install it below the screen as much as possible. Any reflectors inside the fluorescent light also help maximize the efficiency of the bulb.

Replace fluorescent bulbs every six months or as recommended by the manufacturer. Even if the bulb is still glowing, invisible UVB rays stop emitting after six months.


This lizard cannot tolerate high humidity; it can kill it. The ideal humidity range for this lizard is no more than 35%. This lizard usually burrows in search of moisture, so provide it with a damp hide or container (no more than 65% humidity) to simulate its burrow. It may need this moist environment to help it shed its skin. To monitor humidity levels, use a hygrometer or hygrometer.


Reptile owners sometimes use substrate or litter to line the bottom of the cage. Since spiny-tailed lizards are diggers, they will enjoy burrowing substrates.

Provide 6 to 8 inches of litter in its enclosure so that it can instinctively burrow. Natural sand sold as “washed play sand” or calcium sand sold at pet stores works well. Some reptile owners use small grains such as millet or walnut shell substrates.

Any matrix that can be put into the lizard’s mouth has the potential to cause colon obstruction. To avoid this, place your lizard on a plate covered with substrate so it doesn’t swallow it by mistake. You can completely prevent impaction by using artificial substrates such as shredded felt, paper towels, or indoor and outdoor rugs. However, those cage liners won’t allow the lizards to burrow.

food and water

Spiny-tailed lizards are herbivores. They may have occasional insects in the wild, but too much animal protein can cause it pain or serious kidney problems. Avoid feeding any insects.

Feed a variety of dark leafy greens such as snails, dandelions, endive, kale, mustard greens and spring mixes. Rotate offerings to keep your lizard interesting. Added proteins include lentils, peas, beans and certain grains such as millet.

In the wild, these lizards can go weeks or months without food. Feed larvae and larvae daily, but adults over 3 can eat four to five times a week. Feed in the morning, offer as much food as possible, they are not opportunistic feeders.

Healthy lizards eat a variety of vegetables and don’t need calcium supplements, but many out-of-town veterinarians still recommend dusting the lizard’s food with calcium powder several times a week.

A water tray is not necessary, as the surgeonfish get their moisture from their food. However, you can provide a shallow dish to soak in in case the lizard needs to cool down.

common health problems

Metabolic bone disease (MBD) is one of the most common diseases in pet reptiles and is usually caused by calcium deficiency. Signs of MBD include swollen joints, tremors, and a loose jaw. A balanced diet, adequate UVB lighting, and calcium supplements should prevent your lizard from developing MBD.

Dehydration can also be caused by a poor diet. Since spiny-tailed lizards rely on food for water, plenty of leafy greens can prevent dehydration. Also, provide ample substrate and space for burrowing. These creatures burrow themselves into hiding spaces to regulate body temperature and retain moisture.

Sometimes, your spiny-tailed lizard may refuse food for up to a week. These lizards may lose their appetite when they are stressed, sense the changing seasons, live in enclosures where the temperature is too low, or become ill. They may also go on a food strike because they are tired of being repeatedly served.

Choose your spiny-tailed lizard

Before buying a spiny-tailed lizard, search for a local reputable breeder or seller who has captive-raised spiny-tailed lizards. If you can get your reptile from a breeder, they can explain your pet’s health, and most are hand-raised lizards. Captive lizards have become accustomed to life in cages and are not frightened when handled. Don’t buy imported lizards; poachers are responsible for depleting wild populations.

You can often find reputable breeders through out-of-town veterinarians, other reptile owners, and local reptile shows. At the Reptile Expo, you can meet regularly with breeders and buy lizards and all your supplies in one place. Spin-tailed lizards range in price from $100 to $300. Larvae are usually the lowest cost as they have the highest mortality rate.

Signs of a healthy spiny-tailed lizard include a smooth, even body; no traces of mites (small reddish-brown spots around the face); clear, bright eyes; a smooth jawline; and a fat, rounded tail.

different kinds of lizards

If you’re interested in similar pets, check out:

For more information, check out the additional information on these lizard species.


Spiny-tailed lizard (Uromastyx): species profile
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