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CARE SHEET for Uromastyx ornatus

Matthew Moyle & Nancy Kingston ©1995

     Over the past year we have seen a lot of postson Uromastyx ornatus; some we agree with and some we do not. Thequestions asked about this species often follow similar themes, and sometimesadvice given is incorrect or misleading. To address this issue we haveoutlined a basic care sheet specifically for Uromastyx ornatus (RandyGray has previously provided a goodcare sheet covering general care and taxonomy for the genus).

     To qualify our advice it should be noted thatwe keep nearly one hundred Uromastyx, both ornatus and acanthinurus.We have successfully maintained U. ornatus for three years. In eachof the past five years we have bred U. acanthinurus, producing fiftyyoung so far with another fifty or so eggs in the incubator this year.Also this year several of our captive-bred acanthinurus have producedeggs that should result in some of the first second-generation specimensto appear in this country. Very few individuals or institutions have bredU. acanthinurus in captivity (or any other Uromastyx speciesfor that matter) and to the best of our knowledge our captive breedingrecord with U. acanthinurus is the most successful in the US. Wehave achieved this record with Uromastyx by experimentation andby trial and error. It is hoped that the following information will helpthe reader to maintain U. ornatus while avoiding some of the problemswe and others have encountered with this species.


     Uromastyx ornatus (a.k.a. Ornate Spiny-tailedlizard, Ornate Uromastyx, Uromastyx ocellatus) is a mediumsized lizard that reaches a maximum length of about 14-16 inches and weightof 200-300 grams. Like all Uromastyxspecies, U. ornatushas a thick, spiny tail. The head is short and wide. Coloration is highlyvariable; the ground color varies from light gray or brown to shades ofyellow, reddish brown, powder blue or green. The dorsal surface is patternedwith dark red or brown bands and/or ocelli. Males tend to be more colorfulthan females. U. ornatus is an egg-layer and hatchlings are about4 inches in length but little else is known about the reproduction of thisspecies.


     Virtually all of the U. ornatus that aresold in pet stores are wild-caught. Therefore they are subject to potentiallylife-threatening parasitic infection and are generally not acclimated tocaptivity. Many of the specimens imported in the past three years havefared poorly in captivity, likely due to the above reasons. For specimensthat show little interest in food, and assuming the basic requirementsfor this species are met (see below), it is important to establish whetherthis lack of feeding might be due to a parasitic infection. Many parasitescoexist with their hosts harmlessly, however a few can be life-threatening.We have found Entameoba in many ornatus that presented with acute diarrhea.Untreated these animals generally die. Owners of newly acquired ornatusshould have a fecal done (ASAP) by a qualified vet who is familiar withparasitic diseases of reptiles. Entameoba is treated with Flagyl (metronidazole),50-100 mg/kg orally four times at ten day intervals. For such treatment,the mouth is opened easily by "gently" squeezing the back of the jaws withthe thumb and forefinger, at the same time a finger is "gently" insertedand teased between the lips at the tip of the nose. Many of our specimenssuffering from diarrhea have improved with no further problems with thistreatment.


     If U. ornatus is not suffering from illnesscaused by pathogenic organisms, husbandry is relatively simple. The enclosureshould be spacious as this species is quite active. Adults should be keptin a cage with a surface of at least 6 to 8 square feet. Height shouldbe a minimum of eighteen inches. Dry washed sand (Home Depot) makes a goodsubstratum, one half inch depth is all that is required. Climbing materialssuch as rocks or branches should be available. Acceptable lighting is ageneric white fluorescent tube (i.e. warm white, cool white; less than$2 at Home Depot) that is paired with a 350BL fluorescent blacklight (lessthan $10 at Home Depot). Heat is provided by a generic flood or spot, wattagedependent on distance between lamp and basking surface. The temperatureat the basking surface should be 140 F, however the air temperature inthe cage should be maintained between 90-95 during the day. At night alllights are turned off and the air temperature should be 75-80. Ornatusappears to be a rock-dwelling species that inhabits rocky cracks. Wild-caughtindividuals appear to acclimate well if provided with a retreat into whichthey can squeeze tightly. We use a flat clay roof tile propped up on oneend to form a wedge with a half brick.

     Ideally specimens should be kept singly althoughit is possible to set up compatible groups of up to one male and two females.Watch for fighting and separate immediately (and permanently) if this occurs.Incidence of fighting seems to increase with number of specimens kept inthe cage. One basking spot is sufficient for groups of up to three.


     Ornatus feeds on vegetable and insect matter.On a daily basis we provide chopped romaine lettuce mixed with moistenedReed's Iguana Chow and sprouted lentils or beans. Crickets or superwormsare offered twice a week. A twelve inch specimen should eat 10-20 superwormsor crickets per week, in addition to the vegetable diet. Note that thisspecies does not dig for food so superworms should be placed in a containerwithin the enclosure. Vitamins are supplemented following manufacturersdirections using a well formulated multivitamin (e.g. Reptivite) sprinkledon the food and calcium is provided ad lib in a separate bowl in the formof ground oyster shells (available at the local feed store, but you needto grind to a fine consistency). It is not necessary to provide a sourceof standing water for this species. It is also unnecessary to spray specimenswith water; the above diet provides sufficient water. Specimens occasionallylose weight and become emaciated when kept in groups; treatment here involvesisolation of the dehydrated specimen and soaking in one half inch of warmwater for thirty minutes two or three days in a row.


     Watch for swollen limbs, torn skin or blood whichmay indicate fighting. Animals kept in groups may decline rapidly withoutsigns of external trauma; immediately separate any specimen that suffersnoticeable weight loss. Diarrhea is a serious problem that should be attendedto immediately (see above). Never assist with shedding; it is normal forskin to come off in pieces and prematurely removing skin can lead to rapiddehydration. Crusty deposits around the nostrils are normal and resultfrom excretion of salt from the body.

     Healthy U. ornatus are active duringthe day, alternately basking and retreating to cover. Specimens are bright-eyedand alert although they seem to become very tame in captivity. They shouldhave a robust appearance, almost bloated (especially after feeding). Thebackbone or pelvic girdle should not be visible and the tail should befilled out and not depressed or have a rhombic shape.