Uromastyx Diet

Much of your Uromastyx lizard’s food can come from the grocery store as well as your home garden. Most Uromastyx species are predominantly herbivorous, with insects making up an insignificant part of their natural diet – around 4% or less. As with iguanas, many feel that Uros should take insect protein to have a healthy, balanced diet. This is false.

Captive Uromastyx have done quite well on a completely herbivorous (vegetarian) diet of plant foods. If you choose, you can offer newly acquired Uros some insects to get them to settle in, but this type of food is not necessary. Most herbivorous lizards do best on diets low in animal protein.

Oxalates, Glycosides and Goitrogens

That being said, some vegetable matter is better than others – and some plants have high levels of toxic compounds. Phytotoxins (plant toxins) come in a wide variety of forms. Many are targeted towards insect pests but can also affect reptiles, birds and mammals.

Oxalates and Goitrogens are the most common phytotoxins.

In order to avoid any negative effects and to take advantage of positive effects of these phytochemicals, it is important to provide Uromastyx with a variety of foods every day. See our list of common plant foods for nutrition as well as oxalate and goitrogen content.

Don’t resort to offering up your tropical houseplants for your Uro to munch on, consider the safe, nutritious plants in our list below!

Leafy Greens

Green leafy vegetables can make up the bulk of the Uromastyx diet. Spring Mix salads include baby lettuces (Lactuca sativa) usually including red & green shades of romaine, loose leaf lettuce like oak leaf, lollo rosso, and tango. Often included are  chard or beet greens (Beta vulgaris), mizuna (Brassica rapa), arugula or rocket (Eruca sativa), frisée or endive (Cichorium endivia) and radicchio (Cichorium intybus). Some mixes may also include spinach (Spinacia oleracea).

There are many benefits to using a Spring Mix – it provides nutritious leaf lettuce and a source of moisture, as many Uromastyx species will not drink from a water bowl. Most species should not be provided with standing water as it could bump the relative humidity of the enclosure into high levels (over 35%). Spring Mix is also available year-round, and even Costco carries a bulk package. However, it can spoil quickly if you do not have a large collection or enjoy salad yourself.

Leafy greens last about 5-7 days. Freezing is not recommended, as it reduces the water content, changes the structure and reduces the thiamine (vitamin B1) content.

Uromastyx can be picky eaters, especially with newly introduced foods so it’s best to provide a wide variety every day, in the early morning when they are actively foraging. Their tastes are also seasonal, with some foods ignored at certain times of the year. Uros eat most vigorously in the spring months.

Note that cruciferous vegetables in the Brassicaceae family generally contain high levels of goitrogens and should be limited in the Uromastyx diet. For this reason, we do not recommend feeding cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, brussels sprouts. These are all one species, which also includes the leafy greens kale and collard greens that may be used in limited amounts. See our plant nutrition list for goitrogen content of commonly fed plants.

Leaf Vegetable Family Designations

Asteraceae

Lettuce (Lactuca sativa)
Endive/Escarole (Cichorium endivia), aka Broadleaf endive and Frisee/Chicory aka Curly-leaf endive
Radicchio (Cichorium intybus)

While lettuce (Lactuca sativa) as a type has been vilified for being nutritionally incomplete, it is low in oxalates/oxalic acid and does not contain goitrogens. Its 1:1 Ca:P ratio makes it one of the least offensive vegetables to feed but not an ideal green. The Chicories such as endive are, however, a wonderful staple green.

Amaranthaceae

Spinach (Spinacia oleracea) feed sparingly
Subfamily Chenopodiaceae: Beets (Beta vulgaris)

Spinach has also been discouraged as a food item because it is very high in oxalates, but as part of a well-planned diet every few weeks it is not a bad choice. Beet greens have about half as much oxalic acid as spinach so should also be fed with care.

Brassicaceae (Cruciferous vegetables)

kale, spring greens, collard greens (Brassica oleracea, Acephala Group cultivars)
turnip greens, rapini (Brassica rapa)
bok choy (B. rapa chinensis)
mustard greens (B. juncea, B. nigra Sinapis alba)
tatsoi (B. rosularus)
arugula/rocket (Eruca vesicaria)
watercress (Nasturtium officinale)

Again, beware the goitrogens in the Brassica family!

Vegetables

Besides green leafies, a wide variety of mixed vegetables from your local grocery can be offered. Be sure to offer gourds such as winter squash often, even daily, to create a nutritious balance to the diet of greens. Carrots and sweet potatoes can also be used, but provide moderate levels of oxalates, which should be kept low as greens generally contain high amounts.

pumpkin (chopped or grated)
squash (grated)
zucchini (chopped or grated)
sweet potatoes (chopped or grated)
carrots (chopped or grated)
peas
green beans (chopped)
Opuntia (prickly pear cactus)
bell peppers
cucumber
corn (limited quantities)
bamboo shoots
jicama (grated)
parsnips (grated)
sprouts (limited quantities)

Grated, chopped or shredded veggies can be stored, refrigerated, in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks.

Thawed frozen veggies are fine in moderation, but note that their thiamine (vitamin B-1) levels are reduced in the process. Make sure you feed only with fresh green leafies.

Dry Beans & Seeds

Uromastyx have strong jaws that can crack dry legumes. These provide an extra boost of protein (but beware the phosphorus and goitrogen content) and seeds provide some dietary fat. Bean mixes can also be ground into a powder, just be sure to keep it dry as it can become a stuck on mess on toes, tails and bellies. We generally offer a dish of lentils and millet at all times to our Uros when not housed on birdseed.

Lentils
Proso millet (white millet)
Bean Soup Mix (ground, beans only)
Flax seeds (fatty!)

Do not feed these to emaciated and dehydrated uros because this puts a lot of burden on the kidneys. Also stop feeding high protein food when preparing to brumate your uros in the Winter for breeding in the Spring.

Fruits

Generally, fruits should be used sparingly (less than 10% of the diet). Most fruits are suitable for Uromastyx species, but do not feed Starfruit as it is very high in oxalates. Fruit in general tends to have moderate levels of oxalates.

Apple (with peel)
Berries
Cherries
Fig
Mango
Melons
Papaya
Prickly pear
Strawberries

Papaya and fig are high in calcium, but fig seeds can cause impaction in young Uros. Prickly pear cactus fruit is also a good choice.

Citrus foods are said to be too acidic for proper digestion, and too much vitamin C can cause diarrhea. Banana, plums, peaches, nectarines and passion fruits are highly skewed towards phosphorus in their Ca:P levels, so use caution with these fruits.

Flowers

The buds of many of the listed plants make a good addition to the Uromastyx diet. Hibiscus flowers are great, as are dandelion blooms, mallows, squash blossoms, rose petals and nasturtiums. Pollen and nectar are great additions to the diet in moderation.

Avoid the flowers from potato vines, tomato plants, eggplant, tobacco and related species in the nightshade family Solanaceae.

In the wild, Ornate Uromastyx in particular consume a lot of flowers during certain parts of the year. Use them seasonally and to increase the appetite.

Weeds?!?!

Many invasive weeds are highly nutritious to foraging animals. Leaves and blooms can be highly palatable. Be careful off possible toxic effects of harvesting weeds in inorganically enriched soils, as many can soak up nitrogen to toxic levels. Below is a brief list of the most familiar “weeds”.

Dandelion (Taraxacum officinate)
Hawkbit (Leontodon spp.)
Cat’s Ear (Hypochoeris radicata)
Clovers (Legume)
Trefoils (Legume)
Mallows
Cheeseweed Mallow (Malva parviflora) – common in the Southwest
Silverbushes (genus Argythamnia)
Purslane (Portulaca oleracea) – high in oxalates
Vetches
Bindweeds
Sedums (avoid sedum acre, possibly toxic)
Nettle
Chickweed

Unfortunately, nutritional data is unavailable for most wild fodder. However, such forage makes up the majority of the Uromastyx’s native diet.

Treats

Sugary, starchy or sweet treats, such as fruits or green peas should be used sparingly. Flowers are excellent treats because they are very nutritious. Use foods that have bright colors, such as red, orange and yellow; white flowers are also favored. Treats can get Uromastyx to tolerate your handling, and can often be “bribed” to walk onto your hand with a favorite treat. This makes it much easier to take them out of their enclosure.

Weekly Feeding Schedule

The below weekly feeding schedule is simply a guideline on how to feed your Uromastyx. The major things to consider are whether you are providing appropriate Calcium to Phosphorus ratios (at minimum 2:1) without providing too high of levels of oxalates or goitrogens. You can find all of this nutritional data in our Plant Nutrition list!

The first section of the Uromastyx food chart lists the daily staples for that week and include two daily greens and one vegetable. Squash and cactus pads can be treated as staple “greens”. The other vegetables should make up 20% of the daily staples. Mixed veg refers to either commercial, frozen mixed veggies or your own blend, depending on preference. The staples section is designed to always have something familiar for your Uros to eat, as drastically changing food items can put them off-feed. Staples should consist of 60-90% of the diet, which helps take advantage of availability (dandelion greens, hibiscus leaves and cactus pads for example).

The rest of the weekly diet can be loosely assembled, with the more food items the better. When feeding less, be sure to use highly nutritious foods such as cactus pads, alfalfa, dandelion, etc.

  Week 1 Week 2 Week 3 Week 4
  Daily greens + 1 Daily Staple 80%, Staple Vegetable 20%
Daily Greens Spring Mix* Spring Mix Dandelion / Hibiscus Spring Mix
Daily Staple Squash Endive/Raddichio Squash Cactus Pad
Staple Vegetable Mixed Veg* Sweet Potato / Bell Pepper / Carrots Mixed Veg Jicama / Turnip / Parsnip
  60-90% of total diet; can vary by season/availability
 
  Week 1 Week 2 Week 3 Week 4
  Mix and match from the below rows (up to one item per row)
Goitrogenic Food Bok Choi Collard Greens / Grape Leaf Arugula Kale
High Oxalate Food Mustard / Turnip / Beet Greens See fruits See fruits  
High Calcium Food Mustard / Turnip / Beet Greens Collard Greens / Grape Leaf Dandelion / Hibiscus Cactus Pad
Seed / Legume Bean mix, lentils and/or millet Bean mix, lentils and/or millet Bean mix, lentils and/or millet Bean mix, lentils and/or millet
Flowers See list See list See list See list
Fruits (<10%) Berries / Fig / Papaya / Cactus Pear Cantaloupe / Mango / Tomato Apple / Banana / Kiwi Berries / Fig / Papaya / Cactus Pear
Other Mixed Herbs (see list) Cucumber / Watercress / Spinach Dried hays (see list) Fresh alfalfa (young plant, not sprouts)
  10-40% of total diet; can vary by season/availability.
Total Food Items 16* 13* 13 12
  • / means "or" as these items are matched by nutrition or other characteristics. Combining them should also be ok.
  • * Spring Mix and Mixed Veg each counts as 4 food items.
  • Tip: weigh food items to get approximate %.

Replicating a Wild Diet

See the Uromastyx Native Plants page for information on the plants eaten by Uromastyx lizards in the wild, as well as North American and European substitutes. Spice up your uro’s diet with these edible plants.

Calcium, Phosphorus, D3 and Supplements

Uromastyx Food Summary & Reference Links

Generally, foods safe for desert tortoises should be safe for Uromastyx species. This is not an exhaustive list! If you are interested in the native plants in the Uromastyx natural environment, please see this chart of native plants.

Below are some links to plant foods for herbivorous lizards and tortoises.

Note that there is a lot of controversy on what plants to feed to Uromastyx species, and certain plants and categories get villified. Beyond the truly toxic plants, there is a wide variety of questionable plants that Uros and Tortoises eat with no ill effects. Variety is key! The more you can offer, the more complete the diet.

Good sites with excellent info:

http://www.deerfernfarms.com/Food_Plants.htm
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_plants_with_edible_leaves
http://africantortoise.com/edible_landscaping.htm
http://tortoiseforum.org/iphone/index.php/thread-6786.html

93 thoughts on “Uromastyx Diet

  1. My uro has all of a sudden decided to flip his schedule. We’ve had him for 5 years and he has always been up from mid morning until late afternoon. The past couple of weeks he gets up late afternoon or sometimes even early evening and stays up past midnight into the wee hours. I tried leaving his lights off for a full day and turning them back on the following day normal time to try to get him back on track but it didn’t work. He got up at 6 pm. It’s not that big of a deal. I’m just wondering why the sudden change in behavior.
    Thanks,
    Cindy

    • It is a bit strange. Have you gotten any different lighting in his tank? Is it colder than normal in the mornings? Keeping the light schedule as close to the seasonal daylight lengths seems to help. I would keep his burrow area heated from two hours after sundown to two hours before sunrise. Perhaps his burrow is warmer than the heat lights in the cage? Or, perhaps it’s too warm during the night and he’s waiting for it to cool off. They tend to follow the heat, however. It doesn’t seem to be an issue unless his eating habits have changed or he is sleeping too much or little (keeping in mind it’s winter and they often brumate). Good luck in figuring it out!

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