uromastyx

The best uromastyx care guide is here!

There are a number of species of uromastyx, but the two that we’ll be covering here are the Uromastyx Ornata (Ornate Mastigure) and the Uromastyx Geyri (Niger/Saharan uromastyx.)

Uromastyx are popular lizards that are kept as pets and their popularity seems to be on the rise! In this care guide you’ll learn everything needed to set up, maintain, and care for your very own uromastyx!

A Quick Introduction...

SCIENTIFIC NAME: Uromastyx geyri / uromastyx ornata

COMMON NAMES: spiny-tailed lizard, ornate lizard / uromastyx

ADULT SIZE: Uromastyz geyri reach lengths between 10 and 14 inches while the smaller ornata average less than 12 inches. 

LIFE EXPECTANCY: Uromastyx can live  20+ years in captivity

Natural Habitat

Uromastyx are found throughout most of North and Northeast Africa as well as theMiddle East, even into Iran. 

There are populations of uromastyx that can be found at elevations exceeding 3,000 ft.

They are desert dwelling lizards that live in extreme dry climates with daytime surface temperatures of over 120°F!
 
During the day the uromastyx can be found basking in the extreme heat, otherwise it is found hiding in underground chambers or tight-fitting crevices and gaps between the rocky outcrops it calls home. 

Size

Ornate uromastyx and the somewhat larger uromastyx geyri don’t tend to get much bigger than 10-14 inches in length, with their tails making up about half of that number. 

Uromastyx aegyptia, commonly called the Egyptian spiny-tailed lizard, can reach lengths nearing 3 feet!

Both geyri and ornata adults weigh between 8 oz to 1lb or so.

Lifespan

Uroamstyx in captivity can live, on average, between 15 and 20 years. Some individuals have been known to live over 30 years! A pet uromastyx is a commitment for many years!

Colors and Morphs

Species Coloration
Uromastyx Geyri
Usually beige or orange with lighter-colored spots and markings. There are two color "variations;" the red geyri and the yellow geyri.
Uromastyx Ornata
The basic color is varying shades of green/blue with yellow patterns. Males tend to be more vividly colored than the lighter-colored females.

Geyri

The uromastyx geyri is comprised of two different color phases; the “red” and the “yellow.”

The red phase is almost solid in color from a reddish to nearly neon pumpkin orange while the yellow phase is also an almost neon yellow color. 

Uromastyx geyri are some of the brightest-colored species of uromastyx!

Ornata

The uromastyx ornata, not to be outdone, are also extremely colorful, with males exhibiting much more bright colors and deeper tones.

Color ranges from green to bluish with red or brown bands containing yellow ring-like patterns or markings; many times forming rows.

Females are dimmer, less saturated with color; light browns and pale yellows. 

Difficulty Level

Uromastyx species can make excellent pets! Experienced reptile-keepers and even novice pet-owners can have success keeping uromastyx!

Their setup and care, while simple, does require special lighting and heating elements which are crucial to uromastyx health

Behavior and Temperament

Uromastyx are primarily terrestrial and are relatively active and enjoy digging.

Uromastyx are calm and docile lizards that can be handled and enjoyed by keepers. 

Uromastyx are generally aggressive and territorial towards one another (especially males) and even if their aggression isn’t readily seen or witnessed, the stress to a subordinate animal can result in poor health and adverse affects. 

Many uro keepers even house females separately and only introduce the females and males during breeding season.

Do Uromastyx Bite?

A bite from a uromastyx is actually quite rare. 

It is much more common for a them to whip you with their tail or run away and try to hide than to bite.  

However, if a uromastyx does bite, if can (depending on the size of your Uro) draw blood and possibly require medical attention; at minimum a bandage or dressing. A very large Uro bite may require a stitch or two.

If bitten make sure to clean the area well by washing with soap and water and dress the bite with a clean bandage. 

The best thing you can do with your pet uro is to acclimate and tame it while it’s young in order to substantially reduce the risk of getting bitten in the first place. 

Thankfully, spiny-tailed lizards are quite docile and have good temperaments so bites from them are rare.

Handling

Uromastyx are really a joy to handle. Different than some lizards that don’t show desire to be held or are very skittish, uromastyx may even “enjoy” some amount of handling.  

Also, being a heavier-bodied lizard, uromastyx are heartier and more able to withstand handling than other more delicate lizards and geckos. . 

Just always remember, handling any reptile is for the keepers enjoyment and pleasure and not the animal’s. 

Like with any animal, initial contact should be slow and steady and trust is developed over a period of time gently handling your uro for a few minutes every day or so for a week to a couple of weeks. One great way to gain your uromastyx’ trust is to hand feed it. 

Once your uromastyx realizes that you pose it no threat, they can be handled with ease and are a pleasure to hold. 

Gentle handling and slow movements with your lizard will help to earn, and to maintain, its trust.

Uromastyx geyri” by Przemek Pietrak is licensed under CC BY 2.0 

Enclosure

Adult uromastyx will need an enclosure of around 75 gallons or a habitat measuring 4ft by at least 2 ft.

A 75 gallon would be  bare minimum for a breeding pair. A larger enclosure, 6ft by 3ft would  afford a much better habitat for pairs or larger species such as Egyptians.

Length is more important than height as uros are not terrestrial. 

However, deep/tall enclosures can provide an opportunity to create thick layers of substrate so that areas to dig and construct burrows are provided. 

Humidity

Your boa constrictor enclosure should have a constant humidity of 60-70%. 

In order to maintain the humidity you may need to occasionally mist the enclosure or, if your habitat has one, cover part of the mesh screen top to retain moisture.  

Misting can be down with a simple spray bottle. Humidity will also be boosted depending on how easily the substrate holds moisture and by maintaining a water bowl in the enclosure.

Using a hydrometer, a device for measuring humidity makes easy work of maintaining proper humidity levels. Fortunately they are inexpensive and readily available.

Substrate

Your boa constrictor’s substrate can be as simple or as complicated as you want.

The main purpose of the substrate is to provide a surface for the snake to live in/on, to be efficiently and effectively cleaned, to hold in moisture in order to raise humidity, and to be visually appealing.

Substrates such as aspen shavings, cypress mulch and orchid bark (both help maintain humidity), or even something as simple as newspaper or paper towels can work great!

Never use substrates containing cedar as it is deadly to reptiles.

Hides

An absolute necessity for any boa constrictor enclosure is two or more hides or shelters. Most snakes prefer a dark secure place to spend much of their time. The hides you provide give your ball python a secure place to feel safe.

The more hides and safe places you can provide your snake the less stress it will have and the more comfortable it will be.

Heating

Boa constrictors need temperature gradients(zones). Their enclosure should have a “warm side” and a “cool side.”

The warm side basking spot should range in temperature from 88-90°F and the cool side from 80-85°F. 

The most effective means of heating your boa’s enclosure is by an under-tank heating pad or mat. You can also heat the enclosure with a heating lamp or ceramic heat emitter directed from the outside of the enclosure. (set on top of the screen lid)

NEVER use heating rocks or stones that go inside of the habitat. These can cause severe burns and even death!

An accurate thermometer is a must for any ball python enclosure.

Lighting

A basking light using a full-spectrum UVB bulb should be used on the warm side of the enclosure to help enable your boa to regulate its temperature and provide it the benefits of UVB light. 

Uromastyx Lizard” by hj_west is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 

Food and Water

Clean, fresh water should be available at all times

A large, stable water dish should be provided. The water dish should be large enough that your ball python can soak in it. Soaking can be very important during shedding. 

The water dish should be cleaned and disinfected weekly and as needed. 

Boa constrictors have good appetites, which can be both a blessing and a potential curse. 

Boas, unlike ball pythons, will seldom give you any trouble with refusing to eat. In fact, they will many times eat to excess if given the opportunity. It is not uncommon to see obese boa constrictors as a result of uneducated owners with poor animal husbandry. 

Boa constrictors are carnivores; they eat other animals

You should feed your adult boa constrictor every 2 to 3 weeks. Smaller, juvenile snakes can be fed more often, about every 7 days, boas that are between 1 -2 years of age can be fed every 7-14 days.  

Your boa will be fed with mice, in time graduating to adult rats (even some XXXL sized rats for very large boas). As a rule, you can feed your snake mice or rats that are approximately the same size as the snake is round. 

The size of the mouse or the rat will depend on the size of your snake’s midsection.

After feeding your boa should show a slight bulge in its midsection from the meal. Your snake should NOT have a big lump in its stomach or look like it swallowed a beach ball!

Feeder rodents

Should I feed live rodents or feed previously killed frozen (and then thawed) rodents?

The best option, for both you and your boa constrictor, is to purchase frozen rodents that you can thaw and feed to your snake.

Benefits of feeding frozen/thawed:

  • It is convenient
  • It’s parasite free
  • Rodents cannot harm or cause injury
  • More economical because you can buy in bulk
  • Frozen rodents are easier to store than live rodents

Live animals are what boa constrictors eat in the wild. They have evolved to be extremely good predators and are built for hunting, subduing, constricting, and eating live prey. 

However, in a captive environment feeding live animal prey is not ideal for a number of reasons.

Three reasons not to feed live:

  1. If left unattended a live rodent can harm, injure or (yes) even kill your snake
  2. There is the possibility of introducing disease or pests to your snake/enclosure
  3. Live rodents can be difficult/time consuming/messy/smelly to house

Rodent bites, especially bites from a large rat, can do great harm to your snake. If you do feed live rodents make sure not to leave your snake and the rodent unattended until the snake has captured and constricted its prey.

Uromastyx Geyri – “Saharan Spiny Tailed Lizard” by thaths is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

Why won't my red tail boa eat?

As mentioned earlier boa constrictors have great appetites and don’t often refuse food or go on hunger strikes.

However, you may occasionally experience a snake that refuses to eat. 

Here are some common reasons why your boa constrictor isn’t eating:

  • It is in shed or about to go into shed
  • Your snake just isn’t interested (or is going through a seasonal “fast”)
  • The enclosure is too hot or too cold
  • Stress can cause your snake to not eat
  • Less common -there may be a heath/medical problem (parasites, infection, etc)

Shedding

All snakes shed their skin and boa constrictors are no exception. Boas continue to grow throughout their lives and as their body increases in size they need to shed their skin to accommodate for this growth.  

Shedding can also be beneficial because it may help remove parasites like mites or ticks. 

Snakes go through a shedding cycle which can last between 1 and 2 weeks.

The Pre-shed

During this pre-shedding phase you’ll notice that your boa’s colors appear dull and a bit darker than usual. You may also notice the snake’s eye becoming darker as well or appearing faded. 

Some boas will display a pink blushing or tint to their belly. Your snake may begin to refuse to eat at this point which is completely normal! 

(once they do refuse food, it’s probably best to stop offering it until they have completed their shed)

Blue

The second part of the pre-shed is what’s known as “being in blue” or the “blue phase.”

Being in blue means that your boa’s eyes will get cloudy, and appear to be a milky-blue color. Your snake’s skin will also appear to be a lot less colorful and much duller than it usually does. 

The second part of the pre-shed is what’s known as “being in blue” or the “blue phase.”

Being in blue means that your boa’s eyes will get cloudy, and appear to be a milky-blue color. Your snake’s skin will also appear to be a lot less colorful and much duller than it usually does. 

Your constrictor is easily stress during this stage. Cloudy eyes make it hard to see and the impending shed can make your snake particularly uneasy. 

Your boa will spend much of its time hiding and become defensive if you attempt to handle it or are active in its enclosure. It’s best to just give your snake the space it needs.

It can be a good idea to keep a diligent eye on the enclosure’s humidity levels; even increasing them a bit up tp 75-85%.

You can introduce a “humidity box,” or hide filled with slightly damp sphagnum moss to assist your snake in the shedding process.

Approximately 3-5 days later your boa may begin to look “normal” again. Many new snake keepers wonder, “What happened? Is my boa constrictor not going to shed now?”

Clearing

This “clearing stage” is a normal part of the shedding process as all the fluid between the old and new layers of skin clears up and makes the snake appear much more colorful and brighter. 

When your snake “clears up” after “being in blue,” you know the shed is about to begin!

In 2 to 3 days after your boa has shown signs of the pre-shed “clearing” your snake will soon shed its skin. Snakes tend to shed at night when they feel less stressed and more secure, so you may not see your boa constrictor shed at all.

The Shed

051214” by Simon Evans is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Your boa rubs its nose against a hide, a decoration, the enclosure wall or substrate to get its skin to begin to peel or crack. 

Once its skin begins to peel the snake will wriggle and squirm and move its way around the enclosure rubbing up against anything it can find to help remove the old skin.

Most often a fully shed snake’s skin will come off in one piece, eye caps and the tip of the tail included!

Your boa may eat a short time after completing its shed or it may skip another meal.

Either is perfectly normal. If your snake does refuse to eat,  just try to see if it will feed at the next scheduled meal.

Common Health Problems

For the most part boa constrictors are very hardy and robust and will remain free from disease and health problems.

However, there are some health issues that can affect boas. 

IBD - Inclusion Body Disease

IBD is a serious and fatal viral infection that targets boid snakes. Infected boa constrictors may develop head tremors, have recurrent regurgitation, and have abnormal sheds. 

Symptoms can worsen at an alarming rate as the infection progress through the nervous system. 

It is important to pay close attention to any abnormal signs or symptoms that you boa may display. Veterinary assistance can be helpful in determining whether or not a boa may have inclusion body disease. 

Vomiting and regurgitation

The most common cause is from poor husbandry (care). Handling your boa constrictor too soon after feeding can cause your it to vomit/regurgitate. Low enclosure temperature can also cause your snake to vomit/regurgitate. 

These two causes account for almost all instances of vomiting and regurgitation. They are both easily corrected.

Poor shed with retained eye cap

Low humidity, handling your snake while in shed (damaging underlying skin), and low temperatures can lead the eye caps (protective skin covering the eye) to not be shed. 

Poor husbandry and an unclean environment will lead to disaster EVERY TIME!

If you are unable to provide a boa (or any reptile) with the proper environment, please reconsider this choice of pet for the time being. 

If you have any questions or concerns about your boa constrictor’s health please contact your local veterinarian!

Conclusion

This boa constrictor care guide was developed with both you and your snake in mind! 

We hope that the information contained here can get you off to a great start and help keep your snake happy, healthy, and in the best shape possible! 

As always, good luck and thank you for stopping by!

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