Mali Uromastyx

Mali Uromastyx

Uromastyx (dispar) maliensis

Natural History

The genus Uromastyx consists of a handful of species, all indigenous to the arid desert regions of North Africa and the adjacent middle east. These lizards, also known as drab lizards or spiny-tailed agamas, are moderately sized, and primarily vegetarian.

Mali uromastyx are well adapted for desert life. They bask extensively under the desert sun and are able to go for extended periods of time without water. Males of this species are typically jet black with bright yellow markings, while females tend to be more of a uniform brown or tan in color. However, there are exceptions, and determining the sex of immature animals can be difficult.

In addition to their natural survival skills and attractive appearance, Malis are also gentle animals, and in captivity quickly become tame and tolerant of human contact.

Size and Longevity

Mali uromastyx are a medium sized lizard, with males occasionally exceeding 16 inches in total length. Females are usually smaller, between 12 and 14 inches, but much larger females have been recorded.

With proper care these animals can easily live in excess of 15 years.


Uromastyx in general are active animals, and Malis are no exception. A single baby can be housed in a 10 to 15 gallon tank for it’s first few months of life, but will quickly require larger quarters. A single adult should be given a space no smaller than that of a standard 40 gallon terrarium. A larger enclosure (4 feet by 2 feet) is highly recommended for singles, and a necessity for a pair.

All glass enclosures are fine for these animals, as are custom built wooden enclosures and manufactured plastic ones. Ventilation is important, as these animals require low levels of humidity, and closed up cages tend to become stagnant.

Heating and Lighting

As a desert species, uromastyx as a group require high levels of both heat and light. Heating can be provided via the use of ceramic heat emitters and various heat bulbs, although the "basking" variety are ideal for this species. Despite the requirement for high daytime temperatures, a nightly reduction in temperature is not only natural for these animals, but also highly recommended in captivity.

Localized basking areas within the enclosure should be at least 100 degrees during the day, and basking temperatures approaching 120 degrees are acceptable for adults as long as access to cooler areas is provided. Smaller animals should be given slightly cooler basking areas, as they heat up much faster as a result of their smaller mass. Ambient, or background, temperatures should be in the 80's during the day and can safely drop to the mid 70's at night. If you anticipate temperatures much below 70 degrees at night, supplemental nocturnal heating chaetal be provided in the form of a heating pad or a red "night" bulb.

Uromastyx enclosures should be very bright during the day. Full spectrum lighting is required, and can be provided through the use of UVB emitting fluorescent bulbs or mercury vapor lights, both designed specifically for reptile use. This type of lighting replicates the sun and is required for your lizards growth and for the prevention of metabolic disorders.

If your heat source is of the non-light emitting variety (ceramic heaters), an additional visible light source (in addition to your UV lighting) should be used, as high light levels are required for the overall well-being of uromastyx in captivity.

Substrate and Furnishings

Sand is often advocated as an ideal substrate for uromastyx, and it can in fact be used in the proper situation. However, it is not uncommon for young uromastyx to ingest small amounts of sand while feeding, and over time these particulates can accumulate in the gut and lead to medical problems.

A safer, cleaner, and less heavy alternative is Sani-chips, a sterile and dust free aspen chip. This substrate has a much lower incidence of problems when ingested and is also easy to clean. Make sure that whatever bedding you choose is as dustless as possible, and avoid anything with sharp edges or that may promote excess humidity.

Mali uromastyx are active animals, and they like to dig, so at least 3 inches of substrate should be provided to facilitate this behavior. Additionally, heavy decorations such as rocks or large pieces of wood should rest directly on the enclosure floor (not on the surface of the substrate) to prevent crushing injuries should your lizard decided to dig under them.

Other than a few pieces of wood or stone for basking and one or two hiding areas, uromastyx cages should be kept simple. Elaborate set-ups, unless expertly designed, will simply be destroyed by these active and curious animals.

Water and Humidity

Mali uromastyx live in very hot and arid parts of the world. As a result of there xeric lifestyle, humidity within the enclosure should kept at a minimum. In most situations, no specific action on the part of the keeper is required. Simply keep your enclosures warm and well-ventilated to avoid any problems.

A small water dish should always be made available to these lizards, although do not be concerned if you do not see them drinking from it. The dish should be sturdy and placed in such a manner to prevent spills.


Mali uromastyx are mostly vegetarian. The vast majority of the diet should consist of a wide variety of dark leafy greens, peas, and seeds. Collard greens, mustard greens, kale, and romaine lettuce are examples of some of the foods recommended for this species. Carrot tops and beet greens are a few other food items that are high in calcium and are readily accepted by many uromastyx. Additionally, peas, pea pods, and small amounts of carrots, squash, and other vegetables may be added occasionally for variety.

Crickets should be offered only as a rare treat, and the same goes for mealworms and other sources of animal protein. Uromastyx are not designed to process high levels of protein, and over feeding of these foods can lead to a variety of health problems over time.

Young uromastyx may be offered food daily, while older animals can be maintained on an every second to third day feeding schedule. Some uromastyx will eat only a small bit on a daily basis, while others will consume a larger quantity of food but only every few days. . Monitor your lizards food intake and make adjustments as needed

All food should be lightly dusted with high quality calcium/vitamin D3 supplement at every feeding for growing animals, and a few times a week for adults. In addition to a calcium supplement, a reptile multi-vitamin should be used occasionally in all but the most varied captive diets. Formulas vary from one manufacturer to the other, so be sure to consult the label or a local expert to help determine the proper regimen for supplementing your lizards food.


If obtained at a young age, or if provided with consistent human contact, most Mali uromastyx will become very calm and tolerate your presence. It is not uncommon for this species to become completely trusting of their keepers, and will almost seem to seek out attention.

Even grumpy uromastyx will very seldom attempt to bite, but beware of their spiny tails, which when used in self defense can make for a rather unpleasant experience. Again, this is rarely the case with animals raised in captivity.

© LLLReptile & Supply, Inc 2007