Care Sheet for the Genus Uromastyx
This care sheet is now due for some updating, but should continue to answer most questions of the new uromastyx enthusiast.
Last Updated: 12/01
This care sheet is meant to serve as a tool for new uro keepers to aid in the proper care of uromastyx lizards in an indoor environment, though the majority of the information below can be applied to outdoor systems as well.
It should be noted that most of our uro pictures, including the page mascot above, were donated by John P. Castellanos: without his striking collection of uros and ability to perfect herp pics this page would surely look drab in comparison to it's present state!
We would also like to thank Doug Dix, Troy Jones, Pete Koplos DVM, Hal Leslie, Lindsay Pike, Kenny Utz, Audrey Vanderlinden, Mark Walsh& the entire group of urophiles on the icomm uromastyx mailing list, both past and present, for their contributions to this page. We have learned a great deal about uros from them, as well as tidbits regarding general herpetoculture, some of which are included herein.
Eric & Suzy Sorin
Classification: notes on Uromastyx species& subspecies
The Basics: a few words about uros in modern herpetoculture
Feeding: veggies, insects, vitamins, and other foods
Water: the debate continues. . .
Housing: notes on substrate, lighting, temps, ornamentation, etc.
Seasons: gender determination, brumation & breeding
Health: lifespan, personality, worming, etc.
Uromastyx are agamid lizards, belonging to the same
family as bearded, frilled, and water dragons. This section will offer notes
on species most commonly kept. It should be noted that this genus is composed
of lizard species which, though sharing similar physical characteristics,
are highly different and require different environments.
U. acanthinura sp. Also called Moroccan Uros, this species is known for it's outrageous and varying coloration. Green, orange, red, and yellow Moroccans are quite astounding. Females of this species are highly colorful, making gender determination in juveniles rather difficult (near impossible). Tricolor specimens can be quite eye-catching, and babies begin life with only a brown color and highlighted pattern. The common pet trade subspecies, acanthinura (Bell, 1825), is found primarily in Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, & Libya. Maximum length is reported to be under 18 inches, with 14 inches being a common total length of aged adults. Captive breeding has become more common over the last few years, though is still relatively rare. These lizards have a very wide tail and strong, bulky forearms. Unfortunately, this species has developed a bad reputation for being quite aggressive and/or flighty. Still, these guys can be tamed with regular handling.
Two other subspecies are commonly recognized: U.
acanthinura dispar (Heyden, 1827) from North Sudan and North Chad, and
U. acanthinura geyri (Müller, 1922) in
Northwest Niger, Hoggar and Ahaggar mountains,
and South Algeria, Mali and Niger.
Other described subspecies includes U. a. flavifaciata
a dark animal
with bright solid barring from Senegal (?); U. a. nigerrima
from Southwest Algeria; U. a.
werneri (Muller 1922),
the "short tailed Moroccan") from Northwest
Algeria and Southeast Morocco; and U. a. nigriventris. These
latter taxa are not universally recognized and were apparently lumped together
with U. a. acanthinura in 1993. (Photo: John P.
sp. Egyptian Uromastyx
are known for their size, reaching nearly three feet in length (24 to 30
inches). The aegyptius subspecies (Forskal, 1775) of Egypt and Israel
is common in the pet trade after a great amount of importing in the mid '90's.
Captive breeding is heard of but still uncommon. Though lacking the color
and patterns found in many of the smaller species, Egyptian uros are breathtaking
creatures who can be quite intimidating due strictly to their size. A rarer
subspecies, U. a. microlepis (Blanford, 1874), also known as Arabian
Uros, is found in the Arabian Peninsula, Iran, Iraq, Syria, Jordan, &
Israel. This subspecies demonstrate a SLIGHT amount of yellow to orange
coloration near the neck and has small spots/ocelli which are easiest seen
when warm, as well as being darker overall than U. a. aegyptius.
(Photo: John P. Castellanos)
asmussi(Strauch, 1863) Iran, Afghanistan,
U. benti Benti uros (Anderson, 1894) are known also as Yemen uromastyx, after their country of origin. This species demonstrates great variety in color, generally ranging from high oranges and reds to darker brown tones. They are very similar to the U. ocellata species, with males having a great deal more color than females, and both being of smaller stature than Moroccans. There are currently three geographic variations to be found in the herp trade. Though all are rare, U. benti can now be separated into three generic "morphs" which include Orange Benti, Red Benti, and Rainbow/Mountain Benti. This last group, often having either cephalo or caudal patches of striking blue or green (hence the name "Rainbow Benti") are sometimes mistaken or advertised as U. o. philbyi (see below) though they are not. It has recently been brought to my attention that these animals clearly key out as a benti subspecies as the Rainbow (also called "highland Benti") have a row of enlarged femoral scales and the "Lowland Benti" lack femoral pores altogether. True philbyi have standard femoral pores. Butch Reynolds recently pointed out that U. benti appreciate branches for climbing, unlike most of the heavier bodied uros (maliensis, etc.), and our group really seems to fit this bill. They also readily drink from standing water, and seem to hang onto branches with their tails in a semi-prehensile manner, as the picture below shows. Rarely captive bred. (Above Photo: John P. Castellanos)
Hardwick's uros (Gray,
1827) are small and stout in comparison to the more common pet industry uros
above, having some slight yellow coloration on a tan background. These guys
have wide tails, large eyes, and come from India and Pakistan, hence the
common name Indian Uromastyx. Some captive breeding is currently being attempted,
but these animals are not generally available. (Photo: Lindsay Pike)
(Blanford, 1874) Iraq and Iran(Photo
U. maliensis Mali
Uros (Jogger, 1998) were until recently thought to be a subspecies of U.
acanthinura. They are similar in size and shape, yet lack some of the
dramatic coloration (reds, oranges & greens) of the Moroccan uros. Most
males have an appearance of that shown, with a yellow pattern covering the
animal's back and a black base color. Females are typically dark brown, though
some may be Hi-Yellow, and many are so-called "male mimics," which betrays
the sexual dimorphism common in many uro species. Both males and females
can take on the "tiger stripe" appearance, and numerous other morphs are
popping up, such as the "multi-barred" or "banded pattern" malis as shown
by the pic at the top of the page. After a crushing amount of imports entered
the US in 1998-99 this species has become very common in the pet trade, with
most average pet shops having some wild caught adults available. Mali uros
are the recommended species for beginners, as they are inexpensive and tend
to calm down and thrive even as freshly imported wild-caughts. Captive bred
juveniles are becoming somewhat common, and can be found through numerous
online distributors. These guys can be found in Mali and Southwest Algeria.
(Photo: John P. Castellanos)
U. ocellata sp.U. ocellata ocellata(Lichtenstein, 1823) is found in Sudan and Egypt. "Sudanese" uros have both striking coloration and pattern. As with most uros, males (blue and red) are much more aesthetically pleasing than females. Egyptian ocellata on the other hand are commonly drab in comparison, though breeder Mark Walsh has a rather astounding orange phase male. Rarely captive bred.
Ornate uros, taxonomically U. ocellata ornata(Heyden, 1827), are found in Egypt, Israel, & Saudi Arabia and are currently one of the most sought out lizards in the herp industry, due to their obvious beauty, small size and calm nature. Captive breeding has proved difficult and few specimens are readily available. While males tend to be (bright) green or blue with some yellow, orange and red highlights among their patterns, females are tan to salmon or orange, with the latter being the more sought after breeders, and may have some blue or green apparent around the body, top of the head, legs, chin, and chest. Doug Dix recently pointed out for us that young females most often do not have dark coloration on their necks and chins, making older juveniles possible to sex. Babies have very vivid stripes of pink, black, etc. but males do not develop "male colors" until early adulthood. Individuals from this species averages 10-12 inches total length, can lay up to 18 eggs and have slim bodies and tails. Though frail in comparison to the larger species, ornates are quite captivating. Unlike most other uro species, male ornates can often be housed together, whereas females may need to be separated due to aggression. If housed together from birth, males will often develop a hierarchy.
Other subspecies include: U. ocellata
macfadyeni(Parker, 1932) from Somalia, & Djibouti and U. ocellata
philbyi(Parker, 1938) from Arabia and Jabal. Females are much
less colorful than males for the most part, as with most uro species. The
taxonomy "U. o. philbyi" is a bit confusing, as some refer to Rainbow
or Mountain Benti as philbyi. It is too strongly be noted here that to our
knowledge, and to the knowledge of numerous other keepers of the more rare
species of uromastyx, U. o. philbyi do NOT exist in private collections
at this time, nor have they ever been captive bred in the US. It is
likely they have never been captive bred anywhere, and wild caught specimens
have not been brought in for sale...any animals which are labeled as U.
o. philbyi are most likely Rainbow/Mountain Benti. True U. o.
philbyi have standard femoral pores unlike benti subspecies.
(Photo: Conrad Ensenyat)
princeps(O`Shaugnessy, 1880) Somalia (Photo:
This club-tailed species (Parker, 1930) is not
currently in captivity to any mentionable degree, though many are awaiting
importation of wild caught specimens. Quite striking coloration, as well
as an appearance similar to Hardwick's uro (head similarity), would make
this animal a hit if captive propagation was successful. These uros are also
known as Oman Uromastyx, as that is their country of origin. (Photo:
To begin with, Uromastyx lizards, also called dab lizards, dabb lizards, or spiny tailed lizards, are true thermophiles: the members of this genus require high temperatures as they are desert dwelling creatures. Basking spot temps of over 120F are required by most (U. Ocellata sp. being the exception). Furthermore, water should be provided primarily in the form of fresh vegetable matter, as these lizards do not commonly come across open water in the wild and many will not drink it if given the opportunity. While insect prey is necessary to provide dietary protein, too much can cause health problems. Because many are wild caught, most require worming medications (Panacur, Flagyl), and many will never really tame down under lax to normal handling. Thus, these lizards can be just as frustrating and problematic as they can be enjoyable and interesting.
While many breeders are currently attempting captive propagation of these species, it is proving difficult, and should not be seen as a money making venture by anyone: it is not uncommon for wild caught specimens to die in captivity, and any breeding project initiated should begin with many animals. Housing complications can be numerous, as high humidity is known to cause respiratory infections and some specimens prove uncomfortable with cagemates present. Aggression is not uncommon, and large enclosures are needed to handle multiple animals. Males should NOT be housed together to avoid conflict, and females may tend to be as aggressive as males, particularly during the breeding season.
For those whose intentions are to obtain a single animal or a pair, the news is much better: these lizards can be one of the most rewarding reptilian pets given patience and proper care. Clearly, captive bred animals should be purchased if this is the intention of the buyer, as wild caught uros will often spend nearly every waking hour looking for a structural weakness of the enclosure through which to escape!
Regardless of the intentions of the buyer/owner, diet is an important consideration for this genus. Like all other lizards which are primarily herbivorous, the right vegetables and fruits must be offered to assure proper health. Simply cutting up lettuce and throwing into the tank will not suffice, unless the intended result is a slow and painful demise of the animal.
Lighting is important also, as these are desert creatures. Full spectrum lighting via a UVA & UVB producing fluorescent tube is necessary. Vitamins are also essential.
With this much said, we'll move on to the aspects of uromastyx husbandry which are vital to healthy pets and breeders alike.
Uromastyx lizards are primarily herbivorous, as stated above. While insect matter is important, it should be offered far less often than vegetables and fruits. This requires the uro keeper to understand the value that different greens and other foods can offer. This will be the first covered. Insect matter will come next, followed by other foods commonly ingested by uros, and then vitamin supplementation.
Veggies: First of all, there are greens which must be avoided for the most part: spinach, due to high oxalic acid concentrations, binds calcium which is necessary for proper bone development. Lettuces provide water with little nutritious benefits. Kale and cabbages inhibit iodine absorbance. Broccoli, peas, and most fruits have a low calcium to phosphorus ratio, which can result in low calcium levels as phosphorous is consumed in its place. Swiss chard is also not recommended. Variety is therefore the key to a succesful uro diet, though staples are necessary. We recommend the following diet, which we have had great success with in both uromastyx and bearded dragons:
Also, highly recommended are lentils, bean sprouts, dehydrated (split) peas, and frozen vegetable mix which can be quickly defrosted but tends to be a bit messy. Vegetables (lizard salad) should be offered every day to hatchlings and juveniles, and every day or two to adults. Remember: in the wild, these guys are eating dried up, heat shriveled greenery if anything. . .letting your uro snack on day old veggies won't hurt him or her. It has been suggested by a very well respected breeder that feedings every two days will allow a uro to fully digest the food it consumes, rather than filling up daily and producing waste of prematurely expelled nutritional components.
To determine if the veggies (& other foods) you're giving your pet are healthy:
Nutrient Database for Standard Reference
Insects: Within any given species of uromastyx, inclination to eat insects will vary. There are, however, general patterns that have emerged that separate the species outlined above. In general: Mali, Moroccan, and Ornate uros are known to be much more interested in insects than others, while Egyptian uros are commonly herbivorous. This is often not the case with juveniles, and in our experience most juveniles will readily eat insects as protein is needed for growth.
Crickets are the best nutritional source of insect protein commonly available (as most people prefer not to deal with roaches!), and can be found at nearly any pet shop. For a tabulated listing of insect nutritional values, as well as a list of mail order insect suppliers, see Karnivor's Live Feeders Page.
For those who wish not to deal with crickets, superworms (Zophobas) are the next best thing. These worms are full of protein, yet have much less chitin (indigestible outer shell) than normal meal worms. We have found that most insect loving uros will readily eat these from a cup and should be fed only a few at a time.
Any insects that are offered, whether they come from a pet shop or insect ranch, may not have been fed properly prior to making it to your door. For this reason, gut-loading insects (crix, in particular) is a very important step in the feeding cycle. While many herpers may have their own little concoctions, we prefer a mix of alfalfa pellets, powdered milk, nuts, dried fruit, etc. The insects you bring home should be allowed to eat healthy for a day or two before becoming dinner for your pet, thus allowing your animal to get the most out of every meal.
Other insects may be offered, though should come from a reputable insect supplier or pet shop to avoid the possibility of parasitic infestation via "bug catching" by the uro keeper. Wax worms, earthworms, meal worms, and roaches can be tried. Fireflies should be avoided as they have been known to cause death in other lizard species.
How often you choose to feed your uro insects depends on a few things: (a) the species, (b) your pet's interest in bugs, and (c) your decision as to what is best! Unfortunately, the general husbandry of this genus is commonly debated. Some very experienced breeders recommend offering insects only every few weeks while others suggest once or twice a week. We have found the once or twice a week plan to be successful in keeping our animals healthy and fat, and suggest three insect meals a week for juveniles. It is highly recommended that only a few insects per animal be offered at each feeding, as too much protein can lead to health problems in this primarily herbivorous genus.
Other foods: 15 Bean mix is highly popular. Rabbit pellets and birdseed. . .common substrates of uro keepers.
Audrey's 15 Bean Soup Formula:
Mix equal parts of the following. . .
Grind in a coffee grinder and add 1/2 teaspoon pure calcium per cup
of mixture (only for babies and juveniles). Add pure bee pollen granules
twice a week and provide commercial dry iguana pellets weekly (if not on
rabbit pellet substrate). This mixture should be kept refrigerated. Feel
free to make adaptions!
Rabbit pellets are a great substrate to keep uros on, as discussed
below. After the recent suggestion by a fellow urophile, we tried pellets
and weren't disappointed. This is slight cause for concern, though, as pellets
are likely to get ingested, especially during the chasing and catching of
live prey. Alfalfa pellets can cause dehydration in reptiles if consumed
in quantity, though consumption of this volume is not likely. Alfalfa is
high in nutrients, however, so an alternative method of integrating this
into the diet is to finely grind the pellets (in a coffee grinder) and sprinkle
the powder on high moisture greens, such as romaine lettuce. This works well
and combines a nutritionally useless vegetable (nearly all water) with a
high nutrient source. If carrying out this plan, we recommend purchasing
the pellets from a feed supply house which can offer pure alfalfa rather
than pet shop pellets which contain many additives (check the label) which
are unnecessary. If keeping your uro on pellets, we recommend offering water
out of a small cup or dish weekly. It will be clear if your animal is in
need of water or not, as discussed below. Rabbit pellets should NOT be a
planned food for your uros for the reason outlined above, however, and also
due to the rather poor nutritional value that alfalfa alone would offer.
Birdseed is another common "Urostrate" as first determined by Jeff
Fisher, and will get eaten quite often. This is absolutely fine. In fact,
lining the bottom of your veggie dish with bird seed (if you opt for a veggie
dish) will keep the vegetables near the bottom from becoming a sticky mess
which needs to be scrubbed regularly. Again we use the words "in the wild"
. . . In the wild, it is suspected that uros eat a large amount of seeds,
berries, etc. due to lack of ample vegetation in arid desert climates. This
makes bird seed a valuable source of food if offered, but is not vital to
the health of your animals. Freezing bags of bird seed ahead of time will
kill any unwanted insects that may have been in the seed prior to purchasing
it (thanks to Pam Hanratty, Uro list member for the idea), and though some
have mentioned the inclusion of hemp seeds in common bird seed, we would
not recommend spending too much time worrying about intoxicated lizards!!
Birdseed is not recommended for small juvenile lizards due to the risk of
potential impaction (see the substrate & health sections below for more
Based on the above discussion, we recommend the following diet:
|Staple Veggies||daily||every other day|
|Insects||3 feedings per week||1-2 feedings per week|
|15 bean mix
|Fruits & Supplemental Veggies||weekly||weekly|
With considerations given to the species of uro you house and the interest your animal shows in insects and food overall, this diet can be adapted to maintain the best possible health. It is also recommended that uros who tend to not eat their insects be fed tofu as it is high in protein.
Vitamins . . . are an essential part of any organisms captive diet. For this reason, two forms of supplement are commonly used in the herp trade: calcium, and multi-vitamins. We have found Rep-Cal products to be one of the best products available, although other good ones exist (miner-all). We recommend lightly dusting veggies with Rep-Cal Calcium at each feeding, with a weekly substitution of Rep-Cal Herptivite (multi-vitamins). This assures the proper vitamin intake without overdosage of some vitamins which can be toxic in great amount (Vit. A).
The great debate: water dish or no?
For years, the consensus has been a demanding "no." Recently, however, many uro breeders and owners have realized that their animals are very willing to drink from standing water. It has been our experience that while both Ornate & Egyptian uromastyx show little to no interest in it, Mali uros will drink quite often. After discussing this matter with Kenny Utz (Mr. Mastyx Reptiles) we found that his Mali uros shared an identical interest in standing water. We both felt, at the time, that standing water might be an essential part of bringing the members of this genus to the pinnacle of health. Our view has not changed, and we continue to offer all of our uros standing water.
On this matter, two things should be noted. First, the consensus that standing water should not be provided has dominated most of the thirty years or so that uros have been captive herps. While captive breeding is still an issue, there is no connection to be made between lack of water and difficulty breeding.
Second, thousands of uros have been kept in good health without water through the use of a proper diet. Vegetables should provide, ideally, 100% of the water needed by these animals.
What does all this mean? This means that as a uro keeper you are free to decide as to whether open water is necessary to your animal. Simply put, no definitive studies have been done on the long term effects of offering or holding back standing water dishes.
Finally, it should be noted that any water left in the tank need only be a small amount in a small dish: uros do not like to bathe! They will not intentionally climb into a larger dish as bearded dragons and other lizards might. Other problems associated with open water and small spills within the enclosure include:
A final note should be made: High humidity/moisture buildup can cause health problems in this desert species including, but not limited to, respiratory dysfunction and tail rot. Moisture caught in between the spiky scales which make up the Uro tail will stay there, slowly causing this rot which will eventually lead to loss of these spines. This is especially noticeable in animals which are preparing to go through a shed. If partial shed retention occurs, a bath may aid in this problem. The skin should not be pulled from the animal's body, however, and a visual examination of the tail should be done within a day or two afterward to make sure no water buildup between the layers of old and new tail spikes has occurred. If moisture buildup is noticeable, one can gently pull the old spines upward to allow the moisture to dissipate.
One by one, this section will cover the following: proper enclosure
size and material, substrate & ventilation, lighting & heating, and
ornamentation (ie. Uro furniture!). At the end of this section are thumbnail
links to images of acceptable enclosures.
Size & Material: The general enclosure size rule for maintaining uromastyx is a MINIMUM of four times the lizard's length and width. This is not very realistic in our opinion, as demonstrated by a simple calculation. A juvenile uro may be (at an arbitrary age) 6 inches long and 2 inches wide. The minimum housing required would then be a tank that it 2 feet long and 8 inches wide, much smaller than a typical 20 gal terrarium. Because these are terrestrial lizards (that is, they do not require branches to climb and will not use them for the most part if offered), they need to be housed in enclosures with as much floor area as possible. To comfortably house your uromastyx we recommend the following approximate square footage:
|area (sq. ft.)||Approx. standard tank size (gal)|
(subadult to adult Egyptian Uromastyx)
|12 and up||125 and up|
Clearly these numbers are only approximations, and should be seen as such. These numbers are not intended to be exact, but to form the basic MINIMUM housing requirements of the genus. Furthermore, if non-standard tanks are used, it should be noted that climbing room is not necessary (above that allowed by rock piles and other such furniture).
This works out to a basic rule of a minimum of 20 gallons of standard tank volume per every 3 inches of uro over the hatchling size of ~3 inches. Increase these numbers accordingly if more than a single animal will be housed in the same enclosure.
As far as the material out of which your uro enclosure is made, many
options are available. Some include: glass (standard terrariums/aquariums,
our favorite for viewing), wood (homemade box style enclosures with screen
or glass doors/lids), and metal (horse trophs). Whatever is used, proper
attention must be given to the fact that UV wavelengths must be able to reach
your animal directly. . .see the lighting section below.
Substrate & Ventilation: While there are numerous substrates available on the herp market, a few have become commonplace for these desert lizards. Below are some of the benefits and drawbacks to each.
The trick is to find the substrate which both you and your pet are the most comfortable with, as THERE IS NO PERFECT SUBSTRATE! Good luck. Note that these lizards are ground dwelling burrowers. . .If possible, they need a substrate in which they can dig and burrow.
Ventilation is the key to your choice in substrate. If you're using an open water dish and your enclosure is fairly well sealed, rabbit pellets are not suggested. Ventilation should be considered carefully: as discussed below, the proper environment includes a warm end and a cool end (thermal gradient), which can be difficult to achieve in a sealed environment. For this reason, we suggest that tanks with sliding glass doors or lids (ie. No screened in section) be fitted with vents of some kind near the top of the enclosure to allow for air circulation and heat loss at the cool end. Without proper ventilation, your enclosure will likely reach a near uniform temperature, thereby keeping your animals from being able to properly thermoregulate.
Lighting & Heating: Things to consider now are (a) obtaining the proper temperatures and (b) providing full spectrum lighting within your uromastyx microenvironment.
Temperature requirements for Uros are significantly different than those for bearded dragons and other similar lizards. In general, a daytime basking spot must be provided at the warm end of the thermal gradient which exceeds 120F (some recommend going above 130F, though we have seen no reason to maintain our enclosures at such elevated temps). The cool end & ambient temperature of the tank should be at or near 85F, and nighttime temps should be those of normal house temps (~70F). This works well, as no nighttime heating devices are required for these guys. Note that these temps describe the optimal conditions for uros throughout the year for juveniles and for all but the winter months for adults (for winter temps, see the "cooling" section below).
To achieve these temps a basking lamp is necessary. Generally this consists of a fairly high wattage bulb (100W or higher dependent on cage size) placed directly over the basking area at one end of the tank. We highly discourage use of hot rocks due to both accidental misuse and electrical malfunction. We have also found no need for undertank heaters.
Don't fool yourself! You can't guess what the temp in that tank is!
Go out and get a good, digital thermometer and check the temps when you set
up the tank, as well as every week or two thereafter to avoid heating mishaps.
Radio shack carries some nice inexpensive models, some of which have remote
sensors which can be left in the tank for easy constant monitoring of temps.
For the section on full spec lighting, I have decided to pull a paragraph directly from our beardie care sheet, as the same info applies to both fairly equally:
"Next is the full spectrum lighting needed by beardies [uros]. As previously mentioned, they need UVA and, in particular, UVB to convert Vitamin D to Vitamin D3, which is needed for the bones to absorb Calcium properly. In general, beardies [uros] should receive 5% UV lighting, which can be supplied by many flourescent bulbs. Watch out for incandescent bulbs labeled "full spectrum" however. That I know of, there is no incandescent (normal) light bulb which can produce the UVA or UVB lighting that is needed. I found that the ESU Reptile Desert 7% flourescent lamps work extremely well, with a long range for UV lighting. While I wouldn't recommend ESU incandescent heat bulbs, I have found their flourescent bulbs worth while. Most major reptile flourescent bulbs provide UV within only a foot or so, and must be placed inside the tank. As the table below describes, a 7 to 8% UV bulb may be placed just outside of wire mesh screening (such as the top of your tank) and still provide approximately 5% UV, which may be of comfort to those of you who don't like the idea of placing the light fixture inside your tank. Hanging near the rear of the tank allows room to get in and out comfortably while keeping the UV source AS CLOSE TO THE DRAGONS [UROS] AS POSSIBLE. You can purchase a regular flourescent fixture at Home Depot to match the width of your tank, thus offering uniform radiation throughout the tank. On this subject you are free to choose, but you may want to look into ESU, which are fairly long lasting, though a bit expensive.Reptisun 5.0 are the most highly recommended UV bulbs on the market, so going with Reptisun is also a good idea...The inexpensive way to do this is probably to order these up online or via catalogue, unless your local herp shop carries a wide variety. When in a hurry, PetSmart carries a good selection of ESU UV flouro.'s but gets an arm and a leg for 'em. Again, no glass can be between the dragons and the UV source, as the following table, adapted from Melissa Kaplan's Herp Care Page, clearly shows. Together, these two sources offer complete daylight at a fairly affordable price. Oh, and don't forget to change your UV lights every 6 to 12 months, as the amount of UVB produced will gradually decrease."
UV Radiation Transmission Table
|MATERIAL||% UVA||% UVB|
|Window glass, single thick||78||5|
|Acrylite GP acrylic, 0.635 cm||6||0|
|Acrylite OP-4 acrylic, .318 cm||89||79|
|UV-T Plexiglas, .635 cm||89||64|
|Galvanized mesh, .318 cm (0.13")||67||71|
|Galvanized mesh 1.270 cm (0.5")||82||83|
Recently we have learned about another type of full spectrum fluorescent tube commonly found at Home Depot and other similar stores. Audrey Vanderlinden, breeder of Ornate and Moroccan uromastyx posted the following:
Finally, to avoid forgetting to turn your animal(s) on or off, invest in a small appliance timer. For less than $10 you can feel comfortable knowing that your pet's lighting system will work without you. Provide 12 - 14 hours of daylight depending on the season, with the exception of the winter coolong period which is discussed below.
Ornamentation: While many feel that an enclosure should be relatively simple, uros require two main "pieces of furniture." Regardless of what you may have been told at the local pet shop, these are very private animals when night comes, and they prefer to sleep under the safety of a hide box of some kind, be it a rock hut, cork bark, etc. Without ample hide spots, uros can become very stressed, and sleeping outside hide boxes which are offered is often a sign that something is wrong. Also needed is a large, sturdy, hot basking area. We suggest killing two birds with one stone by creating a rock hut type of shelter under the basking lamp, thus allowing the animal to hide under the heat during the day and cool off at night. This offers thermoregulation by adding a third temperature zone in the tank, as the hide spot below the basking site will be a few degrees cooler than under the direct radiation. An additional hide spot is absolutely necessary if multiple animals are housed together and cannot fit into the single hide, and a cool hide at the opposite end is optional.
Nine Unit Roll-out Suncages:
Construction and use of sunning cages by John P. Castellanos
The majority of the sun cage is made of 3/4" melamine (heavy!). The outer walls are made of 1/4" plywood. So basically the sides, back and roof are double walled with at least 3.5" of air for insulation. I was going to use some sort of insulation but since the front of the cage is mostly screen doors, I didn't see the need for any 'in the wall' insulation.
Heavy 200-300 lb, 4"casters were used. Swivel on one end (for steering) and rigid on the other. There are 2x4s running the length of the 7' cage for underneath support. Since this cage is to be used primarily for herps only during fair weather, the outer roof is simply a sheet of 1/2" plywood which should be painted a light color to reflect the suns rays/heat.
The front doors are made of 1"x2" wood and 3/8" wire mesh. Each of the 3 levels consist of a 2'x6' (approximate) floor space which can be divided with clear plexiglass partitions. When all the partitions are in, there are a total of nine separate 2'x2' sunning units.
Morning and afternoon sun is not as intense as mid day sun so the cage openings can be turned directly towards the morning or afternoon sun without the risk of overheating. Caution should be taken during extreme temps never the less.
The way the doors are all on one side of the entire cage, allows the angle of light to enter into just a portion of all the units (depending on how you face the cage in relation to the sun's morning to afternoon angle). This allows the animals to move back into the units for protection from direct sunlight if they choose. Depending on the temperature, I try to leave them out for an hour or two at a time. I take advantage of the weekends and try to roll the lizard filled cage out both for mid morning and afternoon sun.
Keep in mind that if you expose your herps to natural sunlight for a few hours on a daily basis, that you should be aware of a balance/reduction in their calcium/vit D-3 intake. It may be a good idea to put a small dish of water in each cage during extreme temps. Most important ... do not sun your animals in a glass or plastic tank as it acts as a magnifying glass which may be harmful and even fatal to your pet. Proper ventilation and a choice to hide from the sun is a must.
Sunning is a great alternative to artificial UVB lamps and powdered supplements. It can also save you on your electric bill if even for a few hours every day or two.
Sunning is a great way to bring your pet closer to nature. It will not only improve their health but often bring out their beautiful bright colors which are not often seen in their artificially lit cage.
To email John your questions or comments, click here.
The captive reproduction of uromastyx lizards is currently one of
the great challenges of herpetoculture! Though hundreds of thousands of animals
have been imported into the US over the last five years alone, a few breeders
have produced nearly all of the captive bred specimens currently occupying
collections. While captive bred Mali and Moroccan Uros are commonly showing
up on price lists, other species are in great demand. Primarily desired are
captive bred ornate, benti, rainbow, and Egyptian uromastyx, though some
breeders have had great success with the latter. The process involves gender
determination; a long winter cooling period, to some extent; a mating season,
in which males and females awaken and are introduced; gestation; nesting
and oviposition; incubation; and, finally, hatching. It is not currently
known if problems can arise in this genus due to binding of infertile eggs
(as in Igs) when females are kept alone.
Gender Determination: Some species of uromastyx are sexually dimorphic, with males and females having different physical appearances. Ornates and Bentis, for instance, show different coloration as adults. Others, such as Moroccans, can be relatively difficult to sex. The first stage in gender determination should be an eyeball examination of the animal's physical appearance in comparison to others around it (and compared to a known pair if at all possible). Males will have wider heads, more robust and muscular bodies, larger femoral pores (pores running along the inside of the femur, or thigh bone), and a wider tail base. Females tend to be heavier/plumper around the lower tummy/abdomen region. The second step should be to examine the cloacal area for a tail-base pit. It was best explained recently on the uromastyx mailing list by Kenny Utz:
We add to this only that if the female seems to have a slight dimple,
lifting the tail higher up, almost curling it up over her back (if she'll
let you), that dimple should flatten out in females but not in males, due
to the hemipenal bulges present in males and not females.
Winter Photoperiod: This is a period during the winter months when daytime hours and temperatures should be decreased to mock the natural seasonal changes. Without this cooling period copulation is highly unlikely. Currently there is no definitive plan for the winter cycling of uromastyx, particularly as the many uro species come from a large spectrum of differing environments. Ornate uros, in particular, are known to come out of their hides in the wild all year long, and don't really hibernate as some of the others are prone to doing. For this reason, they need only a slight cooling period in which food is offered. Most recommended is a nighttime drop to ~60F with daytime temps in the 70's. This drastic change in temperature should accompany a change in daytime light and heat to roughly 10 hours per day. To give the feeling of natural occurrence, it is best to slowly ease uromastyx into this cooling period, with a total winter cycle lasting approximately 3 months, after which time the animals should be brought out slowly by a gradual increase in daylight hours and heat. It is important to refrain from feeding the animals for two weeks before beginning the winter cycle to avoid having food rot inside an animal's stomach which is often fatal.
Troy Jones has recently begun a site on the Uromastyx Homepage listng
various uro keepers' strategies for successfully brumating their uros. To
see what others are doing with respect to a certain species,
Added Notes on individual species:
This previous winter we had the opportunity to partially validate an hypothesis we hold, when two of our mali females bred under completely different winter conditions.
Female #1 was cooled for a period of 3 months, having gone nearly two months indoors with NO lights or heat; she was the last one to arise from brumation, spending even the last week with her head completely burried in the sand. Female #2, on the other hand, was placed in a tank with two of our juveniles and not cooled at all. Upon the awakening of the rest of our malis, both females were placed in the enclosure of a fully brumated male. Approximately 6 weeks later the male began violently mating both females (following a two week dominance display period). Both females became gravid. Female #1 laid 8 eggs, of which 6 were fertile (2 were retained and were coaxed out of her via a dose of neocal glucon; these may have been good initially). Female #2 laid 2 eggs, after which she became egg bound and died. We immediately opened her up and removed the remaining 18 eggs from her, of which nearly every egg appeared fertile (via visual identification of bloodspots). The eggs were placed into the incubator, but we unfortunately lost all of the eggs we were forced to remove from the egg bound female.
Our conclusions are that: (a) females do not require a winter photoperiod to reproduce, or need less cooling than males and (b) lack of a winter cooling does not effect the fertility of female Mali uromastyx. As males will not mate females normally unless a cooling cycle has taken place, it should only make sense then that there is a gender dependence on the cooling requirement for breeding: males, most likely, must be cycled to induce courtship and mating after winter. Though we have no biochemical analysis to defend our statement, we hypothesize that the extreme temperatures that males enjoy throughout the summer months is likely enough to denature their sperm, especially taking into considerations the elevated temperatures of the basking rocks on which their cloacas rest for months at a time. Finally, this would provide an explanation for the massive loss of adult female uromastyx over the last few years as these animals come out of brumation, which is most often attributed to parasitic infestation during physical weakness and immunodeficiency during this time period.
U. o. ornata
Audrey Vanderlinden offered her ornate schedule as follows:
Mating Season: This is the period of 4 to 8 weeks after the animals resume spring hours and temperatures. It is a common recommendation to introduce females to males either just before or just after the cooling cycle, although animals that have been together continuously may breed fine. Uro keepers should be prepared to separate groups, however, as this will soon become a time of aggression among males and females alike. Males must not be housed together.
Typical courtship behavior includes the male doing "push-ups" with his upper body in a very rhythmic and rapid fashion, chasing the females around the enclosure, and doing a "circle dance" on top of them as they curl up and try not to get trampled on. The entire scene is quite funny. Often he will do these things for only a few minutes at a time, slowly building up until he finally begins catching and copulating with the females. Often this will include the use of a strong bite-hold of the female's neck or back, and can be very violent. Females will typically hide to avoid the male, or run upon his every approach. If they are not ready for mating when the male decides it's time, females will often flip over on their backs, which is quite an interesting display.
Gestation: After copulation has occurred, a gestation period of 4-6 weeks is necessary for the female and eggs. This is a time for the keeper to focus heavily on feeding her well, including extra insect protein and extra calcium supplements, without which the eggs may not become properly calcified (evident by eggs with thin, flimsy shells). One of two options must be taken: either a nesting box is placed inside the enclosure for the female (during the cooling period is better, so as to let her get used to the box), or a separate laying tank away from the male is used. The female may swell up like a balloon, or become very "lumpy" during gestation, depending on the number of eggs she is housing. Shown below are both scenarios (Female #1 & Female #2) followed by a pic of female #1 after dropping her eggs. It is clear in the photo just how scrawny these females are after oviposition. The cobra pattern female on the left is Female #2.
Nesting & Oviposition: Often wild caught animals and females experiencing their first season of reproduction will refuse to use the nest box or refuse to dig in a laying tank. Rather they will, without warning, drop their eggs in a random fashion, scattered around the enclosure. The dropping of each egg is followed by a kicking motion of the back feet in an attempt to cover the eggs, and Doug Dix of Deer Fern Farms strongly recommends clipping all of the rear claws to avoid torn eggs. This idea could very well save a large percentage of the hatchlings which might otherwise have had their egg slit by the laying female.
Females who are prepared will dig a burrow as long and deep as possible, often at one corner of the enclosure, in which to lay her eggs, after which the entire clutch is buried and packed tightly by the ramming of her head into the laying substrate.
Female uromastyx lay only a single clutch of eggs each year, with the clutch size ranging, in general, from 2 to 24 eggs. Larger females lay larger clutches, and it is uncommon for a female to go more than 20. The smaller species, such as U. ocellata ornata, commonly will lay under a dozen.
Sexual maturity is reached in these females (as well as their mates) between 1 and 4 years depending on the species as follows:
Incubation: Common incubation temperatures are ~88 to 89F, although it has been shown that over 90F hatchlings may appear with physical defects. Incubation lasts for ~85 days.
Bad eggs can be detected from good eggs via lack of a blood spot, yellowish coloration, and lack of turgidity. Below is an example of the distinct difference between them.
The bloodspots are nearly visible in the top picture, and no discoloration is present, in comparison to the yellow dud on the bottom which was dropped in the sand a few days after the rest.
The recommended method of incubation includes a closed box system,
utilizing incubation boxes with a few small holes drilled in the top for
ventilation, and a small cup of standing water inside the box which will
keep the humidity up. A moist vermiculite can be used as the incubation medium,
and eggs should be covered with the medium soon after oviposition to avoid
mold, as uro eggs mold easily and quickly. A vermiculite to water ratio of
70/30 by weight should be used. Mark Walsh and several others now recommend
using a Perlite/water mixture of the same ratio, as it is said to generate
less mold. After a week to ten days all fertile eggs should have sealed to
the environment, thereafter appearing slightly harder and less moist. At
this point the humidity level in the incubation box can be allowed to drop
slightly. Water should not be added to the medium during the final stages
of incubation, lest the keeper risk drowning the hatchlings-to-be. Lastly,
rolling the eggs is not known to cause definite damage to the embryo, but
care should be exercised not to roll, drop, or touch the eggs, the latter
due to the possibility of removing oils from the egg shell or coating it
with any impurities on the fingers. These eggs should be placed with the
bloodspot facing up to avoid drowning the embryo inside the egg in the early
stages of development.
Hatching: After the first egg has pipped (been torn open by the hatchling inside) it may take as long as a week before the entire clutch has made it out. They will be slow to move at first, but gain strength quickly and be ready to eat after the first or second day. Temps should be reduced slightly below adult temps, and paper towels can be used as a substrate. These little guys will be between 2 and 4 inches long (STL) and weigh between 3 and 5 grams, depending on species. Within the first year the baby should double or triple it's birth length if fed well and properly housed.
Pictured above, counterclockwise from top: maliensis, ornatus, and benti hatchlings; animals and picture produced by Lindsay Pike.
Lifespan: For uromastyx that are wild caught, it is almost impossible to determine age. Currently it is beleived that these animals can live to be 30+ years old in captivity, growing continuously until death, though at a much slower rate after the first few years.
Salt Excretion: Many new uro owners often ask "what is the white stuff around my uros nose?" This is simply excess salt being excreted by the body, similar to that seen in iguanas. This is not a problem, so do not be alarmed.
Worming: I have recently seen it highly recommended that all known wild caught animals be wormed with both Panacur© and Flagyl© if any signs of internal parasites are present. Such signs may include: lack of appetite or unappeasable appetite, runny and/or strongly vile smelling stools, lack of activity/energy. For more info, take such animals to your local herp vet ASAP with a fresh fecal sample.
Personality: While there are general trends witnessed in uromastyx husbandry (ie. Moroccans are "pissy" at times, while Ornates are "friendly"), it is important to remember that these are individuals, as are we. Therefore, we should expect to find those animals that love to be held and those that do not. With adult wild caught animals in particular, we should expect to have to work a little bit harder to tame them, and we shouldn't be surprised when they have "one of those days" and don't want to be messed with.
Shed Retention/Tail Rot: See the water section above for more info.
Deformation: Birth defects and defects resulting from improper care early in life can be devastating. It has already been shown by Matt Moyle that high incubation temps (>90 degrees F) can result in limb deformities in U. maliensis.
Burns/Blister Disease: The picture below is a bit graphic, bit it clearly illustrates what can happen when herpers use heat rocks. This animal was badly burned on one, followed by the onset of what was to be a fatal case of blister disease. While there aren't many specifics regarding this tragic ailment in uros, one probable cause is high ambient humidity. This animal died not from the burn, but from the blisters. More info to come. (Photo: Butch Reynolds)
Hyperkeratotic dermatitis: This infection is currently being studied by Pete Koplos, DVM, presenting itself as a crusty formation about the lips of uromastyx lizards, and most commonly seen in U. acanthinurus. This should not be considered "mouth rot," as it is not a problem definitively involving the oral cavity. If you have a lizard with lesions appearing similar to those in the photos below, please contact Dr. Koplos directly at firstname.lastname@example.org to get further information or to provide information that he can use in his studies of this condition.
Acclimating WC Uromastyx by John P. Castellanos
(with notes and editing by Eric J. Sorin)
SOME WC HISTORY:
It has been my experience that when one acquires a recent wild caught uromastyx, that there's always a chance that the animal will not survive the drastic change from living in it's natural habitat, to being caged and forced to accept a new and strange way of life.
Back in 1995, I was one of the lucky ones who successfully acclimated two out of my three U. o. ornatus. Many of these imports were sold to the general public with little or no education as to how one should keep these magnificent creatures alive. The word acclimation was seldom seen in the herper's dictionary. Little was known of these fresh imports and up to 80% were lost to stress or by their lack of appetite, thus . . . starvation. Many were infested with parasites and often were seen in poor health due to the strain of capture, holding pens, exportation, importation and finally ending up in many U.S. pet stores in which store personnel knew little of their care.
The recent early 1999 importation of the Yemen Uromastyx, including the lowland orange benti and the mid mountain range benti (also referred to as Mountain rainbow benti), went through a similar and almost devastating replay as the 94-96 WC ornates. By this time many of us were somewhat more knowledgeable as to the acclimating process necessary. Some of us were experiencing more success stories, only because we had learned by our past experiences and sadly, by our mistakes. The Yemen are far more delicate than other uros such as ornates, moroccans or malis. Many of the benti losses went unreported so an accurate estimate of the number of losses cannot be offerred.
Having said that, I will try to educate the new inexperienced herpers, who often insist on buying one of the sometimes impossible to acclimate recent wild caught.
It is always good practice to give a new import a hot soaking/cleaning in a shallow tub as well as a thorough inspection for any signs of ticks along with a quick physical before introducing them to a clean and sanitized cage. A newly imported wc animal should always be quarantined and not kept with your other herps for a safe and reasonable length of time. For the first week or so, I try not to interact with the new imports in order to de-stress them as quickly as possible. If they do not begin to feed and have lost noticeable weight in that time, I begin the task of assist feeding, which at times can be unpleasant but necessary. Care must be taken so as not to excite or scare the animal only because assist or tube (force) feeding will often add more stress to the already frightened animal. Stress can kill as easily as starvation or severe dehydration! This should be done quickly but with great care not to injure them. I only tube feed an animal which is off feed, very thin and often lethargic, as a last resort.
Some uros simply refuse to open their "jaws of death." Sometimes a simple plastic spoon or spatula can be used. Simply hold the edge of the spoon between the top and bottom side teeth which you can easily see by gently prying it's lips open. Just apply some light but steady pressure. Patience is the name of the game and if you wait long enough, they will eventually open as you can quickly slide the spoon in before they clamp down again. The Spoon can help in getting the tubing needle in by using gentle leverage to re open it's snout. If you choose to tube the animal, you should carefully insert the needle down past it's throat to near it's stomach (approximately 3" or so down, depending on the size of the uro). The size of the animal determines the amount of food which should be tubed. For example an average adult benti which might weigh somewhere between 150 to 200 grams would get between 3-4 cc of tubing mix. If you don't feel safe in tubing the uro, you can try 'assist feeding' which is done by getting food in it's snout in hopes that it doesn't spit it out. This can be more stressful and time consuming because you have to open their snout a number of times in a feeding session as opposed to once while tubing.
I have added and/or deleted some ingredients in my 'gruel' mixture. This was done as I've learned new methods and have tried some changes in order to bring the animals back toward a speedy recovery.
The main foundation of my mix is Gerber's turkey with vegetables baby food, sometimes mixed with banana baby food. To this I add a small amount of finely ground bean, lentil and split pea mix. A number of supplements are also added such as neo calglucon, nutribac paste, hydro-life (appetite stimulant), vit B-complex, miner-all and a pinch of garlic powder. This is stirred to an almost liquid like substance which can easily flow through the small diameter bird tubing needle. Water, or preferrably Pedialyte or a similar electrolyte solution, is used to bring these powders and soft solids into a thick gravy-like food.
HELPFUL HINTS AND FOLLOW UPS:
Tubing should be done not more than every other day. Twice a week would be ideal. This allows the uro to de-stress between feedings as well as keeps their digestive systems from backing up.
I hot soak the animals while in therapy at least twice a week. It's a good idea to massage their bellies while soaking in the warm water in order to keep their digestive track in working order.
Their fecal droppings should be inspected regularly for signs of under or over hydrating while tubing.
Fresh water should be kept in a small dish during the acclimation process along with daily fresh greens and thawed veggies. If they begin to eat a little on their own, then the feeding sessions should be less frequent as they'll soon after begin eating regularly. Offer them rose, hibiscus and dandelion flower petals. Some bee pollen can be sprinkled on their greens/veggies which may tempt them to nibble. You can also try some wax, meal worms and small to medium crickets.
It is most important to monitor the uro for a safe and reasonable time after tubing. They can sometimes regurgitate the food and if they're too weak to clear their airway, may possibly choke/suffocate on it.
Remember, patience is a virtue which is a must in the acclimating process..
To email John, Click here.
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Final Notes & Uro
We find uromastyx lizards to be one of the most beautiful and entertaining reptile pets available.
Unfortunately, the captive reproduction of these animals has proved difficult to master, with most species unavailable most of the time. For this reason, nearly all uros that are available are wild caught specimens which may acclimate well or may not. Furthermore, the price remains high for most species in this genus, and our knowledge of them is yet limited.
Fortunately, many breeders are working with one or more of these species in attempts to bring them to the forefront of herpetoculture. Not only interesting and quite personable for the most part, uros are easy to house and care for given the tools of the trade: education of what the individual species need to flourish in captivity.
Information obtained herein adapted from numerous online sources,
uromastyx manuals, experienced breeders, and daily experience with this awesome