Home | General Reptile & Amphibian Articles | Spiny-Tailed Agamids – the Fascinating Lizards of the Genus Uromastyx – Part 1

Spiny-Tailed Agamids – the Fascinating Lizards of the Genus Uromastyx – Part 1

Known also as Dabb Lizards or Mastigures, Spiny-Tailed Agamids are among the most sought after of all lizard species being kept today.  There is certainly much to recommend them, but their care does present some challenges.  Today I’d like to introduce the group; in Part II of this article I’ll mention a few points should be considered before adding these unique creatures to your collection.

Diversity and Range

Egyptian Spiny-tailed LizardIt wasn’t so long ago North African (U. acanthinura) and Egyptian (U. aegyptia) Dabb Lizards were the only species available to hobbyists, and then only rarely.  Today several of the 18 species within this genus appear in the pet trade; captive breeding of most, while not regular, has been accomplished.

Dabb Lizards inhabit dry, rocky regions extending from Northwestern Africa south and east to Southwest Asia.  Variety in color and pattern among populations of the same species is the rule. Some, such as the Ornate (U. ornate), Moroccan (U. nigriventris) and Mali (U. dispar) Dabb Lizards are spectacularly-colored, and all are most interesting to observe.  A group of 13 Mali (or Sudan) Dabb Lizards that I housed in a huge exhibit at the Staten Island Zoo provided me with untold hours of interesting observations, and were favorites of zoo-goers young and old.


Unique adaptations to life in harsh landscapes includes upper “teeth” that are actually protrusions of the jaw bone (much like we see in African Bullfrogs and Horned Frogs), fused lower teeth, a tail modified for fat storage and defense and the ability to excrete excess salt from the nasal passages.

Preparing for Dabb Lizards

Experience with other, hardier desert lizards is useful for prospective Dabb Lizard keepers.  Chuckwallas (Sauromalus obesus), while not closely related to Dabb Lizards, have many of the same husbandry requirements but are heartier and more readily available.  Please read over my article on Chuckwalla Care for an overview of what to expect.


Further Reading

Range and other information about all species in the genus Uromastyx may be found here.

A video of a nicely-colored male Mali Dabb Lizard is posted here.


  1. avatar

    What is the predators of the mali uromastyx

    • avatar

      Hello Robb

      Thanks for your interest.; great question. Despite their large range and importance in the pet trade, very little field research has been done., I subscribe to several of the leading professional journals (Herpetological review, etc.) and cannot recall any, Here’s one that is posted online, but it does not cover predators.

      Extrapolating from similar lizards, we can expect that hawks, honey badgers, snakes, monitors, and perhaps desert adapted foxes and small cats (fennecs might take young lizards, for example). They stick close to rock piles, and the heavily armed tail helps deter predators once they have retreated into crevices. There is a hawk in Africa that specializes in extracting lizards, pancake tortoises and others from such retreats; it has long legs and lays down on its side while thrusting them into rock crevices! If it occurs within the Mali’s range, it would be a likely candidate. Cats and other such predators might be able to ambush them on occasion, but badgers and others that can dislodge or follow them are probably more important.

      Maybe you’ll get out there and find out for us!?

      Please let me know if you need any further information. Good luck, enjoy and please keep me posted.

      Best regards, Frank Indiviglio.

  2. avatar

    Hi Frank, I have a question….I have an 18 inch 3 yr old Mali Uro’ and just upgraded the tank for it from a 40 gal to a 90 gal. I am having a hard time keeping it up to temp….so I lined the screen lid with aluminum foil to keep the heat and I now its at 100-110 deg. Will this harm my friend? Also I have a “hide away” on the bottom for shade… as well as stone “steps” for the food bowl I have millet (bird seed for bedding) is this ok I read they need it in their diets and is safer for their GI tracks?

    • avatar

      Hi Michaelle,

      Nice that you are using such a lg tank. 100-110 is too warm as an ambient temperature. basking can be 100-110, but ambient should range from 80-85, with a dip at night if possible. With that size tank, you should be able to establish a nice gradient, although you may need to experiment with bulbs, perhaps removing some foil; insulation placed around outside of tank, to varying degrees, can help; or perhaps use of a ceramic heater (useful at night as well) to warm area, or even a space heater combined with basking lamp? Expensive to experiment, I know, but it usually takes some trial and error.

      They do need seeds and similar foods (Please see this article ) for more, but I’ve not used millet as a substrate; might hold moisture from droppings, etc, and support mold (most desert lizards sensitive to mold, fungal type ailments); not sure if over-ingestion would be a problem. Sand has been used with success….I’d still use large bowls on rock base, but have not seen impaction probs. I’ve also used oyster shell..pl see this article for info on this and desert herps in general.

      Pl keep me posted, enjoy, Frank

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About Frank Indiviglio

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Being born with a deep interest in animals might seem unfortunate for a native Bronxite , but my family encouraged my interest and the menagerie that sprung from it. Jobs with pet stores and importers had me caring for a fantastic assortment of reptiles and amphibians. After a detour as a lawyer, I was hired as a Bronx Zoo animal keeper and was soon caring for gharials, goliath frogs, king cobras and everything in-between. Research has taken me in pursuit of anacondas, Orinoco crocodiles and other animals in locales ranging from Venezuela’s llanos to Tortuguero’s beaches. Now, after 20+ years with the Bronx Zoo, I am a consultant for several zoos and museums. I have spent time in Japan, and often exchange ideas with zoologists there. I have written books on salamanders, geckos and other “herps”, discussed reptile-keeping on television and presented papers at conferences. A Master’s Degree in biology has led to teaching opportunities. My work puts me in contact with thousands of hobbyists keeping an array of pets. Without fail, I have learned much from them and hope, dear readers, that you will be generous in sharing your thoughts on this blog and web site. For a complete biography of my experience click here.
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