Bulldog-like faces, calm dispositions, and fascinating behaviors – not to mention the stunning colors of many species – place Uromastyx Lizards high on the “must have” lists of serious lizard fans and zoos alike. Also known as Dab Lizards or Spiny-Tailed Mastiguerres, North African and Egyptian Uromastyx Lizards (Uromastyx acanthinura and U. aegypticus) first arrived on the US pet scene in the early 1990’s. I’d had some prior experience with these and several others through my work with the Bronx Zoo, but our ability to successfully keep and breed them was limited. Today we have learned much about their unique nutritional requirements, and several of the 15 described species are regularly bred by hobbyists. The following information regarding the best diet for Uromastyx may be applied to Egyptian, Indian, Ornate, Sudanese, Mali, Moroccan and most other varieties; please post below for detailed advice on individual species.
Don’t “Kill them with Kindness”!
Uromastyx Lizards dwell in harsh habitats, and have evolved to consume a diet that is high in fiber and relatively low in nutrients. In the wild, they feed mainly upon tough grasses and herbaceous plants. A diet that is too rich (i.e. high in fruit or insects) can kill them as quickly as will one lacking essential nutrients. As I’ve learned from caring for animals as diverse as giant anteaters and proboscis monkeys, one must feed specialists carefully…they will not thrive on a diet that might be perfect for closely-related species from different habitats.
The Ideal Diet
A wide variety of nutritious plants should form the bulk of the diet of all Uromastyx species. Approximately 80% of their food intake should be a mix of collared, mustard and turnip greens, kale, endive, escarole, cilantro, dandelion, bok choy, romaine and other dark green produce, along with a small amount of squash and green beans. Spine-free prickly pear cactus (Opuntia) pads, sold for human consumption, should be offered when available. Avoid cabbage and spinach, and limit broccoli, as these may react with some nutrients in a way that renders them unavailable to the lizards. Grassland Tortoise Pellets, dried split peas, dried lentils and other beans, almonds and other nuts, and parakeet seed mix should be added to the salad. Adults can be fed 5-7 times weekly, juveniles daily.
Flowers, Grasses and Other Plants
Flowers such as hibiscus, honeysuckle, Rose of Sharon, rose and dandelion, and various clovers, weeds, grasses and other native plants, are also readily accepted, and can provide important dietary variety; please post below for information on suitable wild plants and toxic species.
Insects should be used only as a rare treat, or perhaps to induce a reluctant feeder or habituate a shy individual to your presence. Any insects that are offered should be small in size, as Uromastyx Lizards seem especially prone to intestinal blockages. Although all young and many adult Uromastyx Lizards favor insects, their frequent inclusion in the diet has been linked to health problems. Hopefully we will learn more in time; until then, please post your thoughts and observations below.
Highly adapted to arid habitats, properly-fed Uromastyx Lizards usually obtain sufficient water from their diet. As a safety measure, the terrarium should be misted twice daily, so that water may be lapped from rocks and other surfaces. A shallow bowl can be offered as well, but it should be removed after an hour or so to reduce spillage. Newly-imported and poorly-nourished individuals are prone to dehydration; please post below for further information.