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Uromastyx ocellatus ornatus

Compiled by:   Randall L. Gray

Compilation Date:  February 15, 1998

(This was originally compiled in April 1996 for the American Zoo and Aquarium Association Lizard Advisory Group.  I have updated it to included reproductive information)


An adult ornate spiny-tailed lizard is approximately 30 cm long and can weigh up to 300 gr.  This species is sexually dichromatic, the males are green, lime green, rust, blue or a combination of these colors.  The female is light tan or brown with some color.  A morphological description is available in the Handbook to Middle East Amphibian and Reptiles (1).

They are members of the old world lizard family Agamidae and  were originally described as a distinct species by  Heyden in 1827 (2).  The taxonomic status of the ornate spiny-tailed lizard in the literature varies between subspecies and species distinction (3), however most contemporary taxonomist recognize it as a subspecies of the ocellated spiny-tailed lizard  (Uromastyx ocellatus) (4,5).  They are distributed from northwestern Saudi Arabia, southern Israel, and eastern Egypt along a band following the Red Sea (5).  This species inhabits rocky habitats with many holes and crevices, in areas with less than 50 mm of rainfall.  They are inactive from December to February.  In their habitat, summer maximum air temperatures are 38-41 C and soil surface temperatures generally 45-50 C and occasionally much higher.  Summer den temperatures are around 35 C and their activity body temperature is between 38-41 C.  They live solitary or in group of different composition, but never with more than one adult male (6).


Ornate spiny-tailed lizards are listed on Appendix II of C.I.T.E.S and are not listed as a threatened or endangered species by the USFWS. All imports into the United States come from Egypt.  Several thousand ornate spiny-tailed lizards have been imported into the Unites States during the last 4 years.  High mortality during importation and soon after arrival is common.  The limited distribution of this species coupled with large scale importation may be jeopardizing this species.


Ornate spiny-tailed lizards are widely kept in the private sector and several zoos.  As of December 1995, ISIS lists the following zoos as maintaining ornate spiny-tailed lizards; Ft. Worth Zoo (1.1), Indianapolis (0.2), Bronz Zoo (0.0.3), Vissaenbjerg, Denmark (1.2), and Riverbanks Zoo , Columbia, SC (2.1).

There are no documented captive births within the United States.


Ornate spiny-tailed lizards are heliothermic and must be maintained in a hot and arid desert environment.  Sand or soil can be used as a substrate. Rocky crevices can be created from rocks, concrete construction blocks or similar item which provide retreats (7).   Construct several elevated spots in the cage to allow  basking.

High wattage ncandescent bulbs can  provide basking spots that exceed 50C, thereby allowing the animal to reach its optimum body temperature. The cage should be maintained with a diurnal ambient  temperature around 32C.  Full spectrum lights  provide additional lighting, however it is unclear as to whether these bulbs provide adequate UVB radiation, which is needed for calcium absorption.  Since these lizards appear more susceptible to metabolic bone disease (MBD), full spectrum bulbs should be used to reduce the possibility of MBD.   Since they are a temperate species, an annual photoperiod cycle should be simulated if reproduction is a goal for the collection.

Only one male should be maintained in the enclosure.  More than one female can be kept together, however females will show aggressive behavior towards other females, as well as males, so the animals must be monitored for signs of stress.  Weight loss or bite marks along the sides of the lizards indicate antagonistic behavior and the animals should be separated.

Ornate spiny-tailed lizards are omnivorous.  The majority of calories should be provide by a salad composed of peas, green beans, lentils, corn, carrots, sweet potatoes, kale, collard and turnip greens, dandelion greens and flowers, bird seed, and occasional pieces of fruit.   Superworms, crickets and waxworms can be fed several times per week.  They have a tendency to become obese, especially in the spring, therefore the amount and frequency of feeding should be adjusted depending upon the animal's condition.  Mixed vitamin and mineral supplements should be added to the salad at least once per week.  Insect should be dusted with a calcium and vitamin D3 supplement to reduce MBD.  The exact amount of vitamin supplementation is unclear for most reptile species so caution should be exercised.

Newly imported animals are usually parasitized, therefore fecal samples should be tested and the appropriate treatment administered (10). Some herpetoculturists report skin blisters produced by bacterial infections.  As noted above, they are susceptible to metabolic bone disease.   Rapid deterioration is noted in newly acquired animals being hibernated, therefore only healthy and acclimated animals should be cooled down.


As discussed above, adult ornate spiny-tailed lizards are sexually dichromatic with the males often being spectacular in color with larger femoral pores.  Juvenile animals can often be sexed by the size of the formoral pores which becomes more obvious as the animals mature.  Males begin to show color differences around one year of age and become very colorful during their second year.

 Biologist in Israel report that that ornate spiny-tailed lizards lay 7-17 eggs during May in deep burrows. The eggs take 6o days to hatch at 35C (6).  Ornate spiny-tailed lizards take two years to reach sexual maturity.

Reproductive behavior  follows a winter cool down period as is used with other species of Uromastyx (8,9).  In the wild, ornate spiny-tailed lizards are not active from December to late February (6). However, unlike Uromastyx acanthinurus, ornate spiny-tailed lizards are active at lower temperatures and will try to bask when the temperature is as low as 15C. Loss of ornate spiny-tailed lizards during a cool down occurs frequently with newly imported individuals, therefore they should be provided with a low wattage basking lamp to allow thermoregulation which will support their immune system.  Possibly night time temperature drops, reduced daytime temperatures, and decreased photoperiods may be enough to stimulate reproduction.

In 1996 the author hibernated ornate spiny-tailed lizards from mid-December to late February. Nightime temperatures ocassionally reached lows of 10C. Mating occurred in April and May and between June 6 and July 4, five out of seven females buried eggs in moist sand piled four inches deep at the end of the each cage.  The clutch size varied from 8 to 18 eggs.  The eggs were removed to an incubator and placed on vermiculite that had been mixed with water at a 5 to 1 weight ratio.  Several clutches were infertile and parts of others died when the embryo reached full term.  The remaining eggs hatched after 72 to 76 days at 32 C.  The hatchlings weighed four grams.

The hatchlings are fed the same diet as the adults.  They are kept in pairs or three.  If stress is exhibited by any individuals (e.g., weight loss) then they are removed to a separate cage.


The ornate spiny-tailed lizard is very attractive and sought after for private collections.  Large numbers have been imported into the United States, possibly degrading wild populations since the species has a limited distribution.  The large numbers of captive animals will hopefully lead to a greater understanding of their husbandry and captive reproduction allowing the pet trade to be supplied from captive produced animals thereby reducing adverse affects on wild populations.


1. Leviton, A. E., S. C. Anderson, K. Adler, and S. A. Minton. 1992. Handbook to Middle East Amphibians and Reptiles. Society for the Study of Reptiles and Amphibians Contributions to Herpetology  8, 264 p.

2.  Heyden, C.H. G. von. 1827. Reptilien. IN E. Ruppell, Atlas zu der Reise im Mordlichen Afrika Vol 1. Heinr. Ludw. Bronner, Frankfurt-am-main. (1), 24pp., 6 Pls.

3.  Moody, S. 1987. A preliminary cladistic study of the lizard genus Uromastyx (Agamidae), with a checklist and diagnostic key to the species. IN Proceddings of the Fourth Ordinary Meeting of the Societas Europea Herpetologica. (eds) J.J. van Gelder, H. Strijbosch and P.J.M. Bergers.

4.  Arnold, E.N. 1986. A key and annotated check list to the lizards and amphisbaenians of Arabia. Fauna Saudi Arabia, 8:378-374.

5.  Joger, U. 1987. An interpretation of reptile zoogeography in Arabia, with special reference to Arabian herpetofaunal relations with Arica. IN Proceedings of the Symposium on the Fauna and Zoogeography of the Middle East, Mainz 1985, (eds) F. Krupp, W. Schneider, and R. Kinzelbach. Beihefte zum TAVO a 28, 257-271.

6.  Mendelssohn, H. and A. Bouskila. 1989. Comparative ecology of Uromastyx aegyptius and Uromastyx ornatus in Southern Israel and in Southern Sinai. Synopsis from the World Congress of Herpetology. September 1989 at Univ. of Kent, Canterbury, U.K.

7.  Gray, R. 1995.  Captive husbandry of ornate spiny-tailed lizards. Reptiles Magazine Vol. 3 (3): 64-77.

8.  Thatcher, T. 1990. The reproduction in captivity of the North African spiny-tailed lizard, Uromastyx acanthinurus, British Herpetological Society Bulletin 40:9-13.

9.  Wheeler, S. Captive reproduction and neonate husbandry of the spiny-tailed Agama, Uromastyx acanthinurus. IN Proceedings of the 14th International Herpetological Symposium (ed) A. Zulich,  pp 35-38.

10.  de Vosjoli, P. 1995. How to establish ornate Uromastyx. Vivarium 7 (3):14