Uromastyx Species

Taxanomic Classification

Kingdom: Animalia (Animals)
Phylum: Chordata (Vertebrates)
Class: Reptilia (Reptiles)
Order: Squamata (Lizards & Snakes)
Suborder: Iguania (iguanas, chamaeleons, and agamids)
Family: Agamidae (Agamids)
Subfamily: Uromasticinae

Uromastycinae is now considered a separate subfamily, removed from Leiolepidinae, which contains only the genus Leiolepis, the butterfly agamas. Upon further research and scientific review, both subfamilies may be designated full family status.

The subfamily Uromasticinae are an Old World agamid reptile taxa that includes the newly resurrected genus Saara as a sister taxa to the genus Uromastyx. Three former Uromastyx species were placed into Saara during the evaluation of Thomas M. Wilms, et al. in 2007 (data published in 2009). Their recommendations were based on taxonomic data, including morphological and molecular genetic methods using statistical analysis. This separation also coincides with geographic ranges, mentioned below, although there is overlap. Within the Uromastyx genus, five genetic groups (clades) were identified. Many of the species-level designations were applied based on the morphological “scores” of each individual according to 25 characteristics, in which in-groups and out-groups were evaluated and applied. The genetic and morphological data roughly support each other in these designations, with some species relationships currently unresolved (U. occidentalis, U. princeps).

Distribution of Saara & Uromastyx Species

Uromasticinae are distributed in North Africa, the Arabian peninsula, and south-western Asia, favoring arid and semi-arid desert, xeric shrubland, and dry steppe environments. Uromastyx are concentrated in the Sahara desert and Maghreb region of northern Africa, and into the Middle East, with Saara located between eastern Iraq and western India. The split between the genera 25–29 million years ago.


African countries:
Algeria, Chad, Djibouti, Egypt, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Libya, Mali, Mauritania, Morocco, Niger, Somalia, Sudan, Tunisia, Western Sahara

Middle Eastern countries:
Coastal Iran only (Persian Gulf), Iraq, Isreal, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Syria, UAE, Yemen

There are several Uromastyx species, only a few of which are commonly kept in captivity in the United States & Europe. Some sources lump species, others separate into subspecies, while others place them in their own species – some cases into other genera completely (see the Saara genus, above). Misidentification and the occurrence of inter-grades between species makes identification difficult & complex. The number of species is between 13 and 20, depending on which particular grouping methods (morphological, molecular, karyotype, mitochondrial DNA, etc.) and the age of the study. Morphometric data includes the typical snout-to-vent length (SVL); scale count around the body, head, neck, and toes; the number of tail whorls; and the presence of femoral and preanal pores.

For this article, we discuss the 20 species as identified by Wilms et al. data published in 2009. This data may be updated in the future as new studies are published. Differences between genetic and morphological analysis is likely based on convergent evolution due to similar ecological niches.

Despite the somewhat murky species designations, five main clades, or groups, are supported (to varying degrees) by genetic data within the Uromastyx genus:

Acanthinura clade (U. d. dispar, U. d. maliensis, U. d. flavifasciata, alfredschmidti, geyri, acanthinura and nigriventris)
Aegyptia clade (polytypic species clade: U. a. aegyptia, U. a. microlepis and U. a. leptieni)
Ocellata clade (ocellata, ornata and philbyi, yemenensis, shobraki and benti)
Macfadyeni/Princeps clade (macfadyeni and princeps; NOT strongly linked, relationship unresolved)
Thomasi (U. thomasi, single-species clade)

Not included in the latest genetic research is Uromastyx occidentalis (Western Giant Spiny-tailed Lizard) of Western Sahara, which is known from limited specimens. Morphologically, U. occidentalis is closest to the Aegyptia group by having a larger number of scales than the other Uromastyx groups. Lower scale counts is considered to be the plesiomorphic (ancestral) state, while larger count is apomorphic (derived). U. occidentalis is likely not a subspecies of U. agyptia due to the lack of femoral pores and the distances between the Western African and Arabian distributions. U. a. occidentalis is moved to its own clade awaiting further research.

It is interesting to note that the two “broad-tailed” species, U. princeps and U. thomasi, are not shown to be as closely related to each other, despite having very similar shorter tails. U. princeps has closer afiliation to U. macfadyeni, which in turn appears to be morphologiccally similar to U. o. ornata assigned to the ocellata clade. Superficially similar physical traits can lead to confused taxonomy among the varied Uromastyx species. Most species-level distinctions relate to the number of whorls in tail spikes, the presence or absecne of pores, scale size, and scale count. This may change as more genetic research is performed.

20 Uromastyx Species

  1. Uromastyx acanthinura ( North African Spiny-tailed Lizard)
  2. Uromastyx aegyptia (polytpic species; 3 sub-species make up this taxa)

  3. Uromastyx aegyptia aegyptia (Egyptian Uromastyx)
  4. Uromastyx aegyptia leptieni (Leptien’s Uromastyx, designated 2000.)
  5. Uromastyx aegyptia microlepis (Arabian Spiny Tailed Lizard)
  6. Uromastyx alfredschmidti (Schmidt’s Spiny-tailed Lizard, Ebony Uromastyx)
  7. Uromastyx benti (Yemeni spiny-tailed lizard, Orange Benti Uromastyx)
  8. Uromastyx dispar (polytpic species; 3 sub-species make up this taxa)

  9. Uromastyx dispar dispar (Southern Saharan Spiny-tailed Lizard)
  10. Uromastyx dispar flavifasciata (formerly U. flavifasciata obscura, Banded Uromastyx)
  11. Uromastyx dispar maliensis (Mali Uromastyx)
  12. Uromastyx geyri (Geyr’s Spiny-tailed Lizard, Nigerian Uromastyx, Saharan Uromastyx)
  13. Uromastyx macfadyeni (Macfadyen’s Spiny-tailed Lizard, Somali Uromastyx)
  14. Uromastyx nigriventris (formerly U. acanthinura acanthinura) Moroccan Spiny Tailed Lizard, Algerian Uromastyx)
  15. Uromastyx ocellata (Eyed Spiny-tailed Lizard, Sudanese Uromastyx)
  16. Uromastyx occidentalis (Western Giant Spiny-tailed Lizard, designated 1998)
  17. Uromastyx ornata (polytypic species; 2 sub-species make up this taxa)

  18. Uromastyx ornata ornata
  19. Uromastyx ornata philbyi (Arabian Blue Uromastyx)
  20. Uromastyx princeps (Princely Spiny-tailed Lizard, Royal Uromastyx)
  21. Uromastyx shobraki (Shobrak’s Spiny-tailed Lizard, designated 2007)
  22. Uromastyx thomasi (Omani Uromastyx)
  23. Uromastyx yemenensis (Rainbow Benti, Mountain Benti, Yemen Uromastyx(?), South Arabian Spiny-tailed Lizard)

We’ve attempted to match the list of 20 species with common names and taxonomic species listed on other reputable sources online, such as Deer Fern Farms, Reptile Database, Wikipedia, etc.

Of note, U. a. acanthinura, or Algerian “Leopard” Uromaxtyx is here aligned with the Moroccan Uromastyx, although it is a possible subspecies of either U. nigrivensis or U. acanthinura (both closely related), but this is not supported by current data (Wilms et al.). Much confusion arises due to mislabeled imports, as well as from naturally occurring intergrades in the wild. The U. yemenensis and U. benti may both have been referred to as Yemeni Uromastyx prior to the species status given to U. yemenensis.

Uromastyx History

Historically, the taxa that became known as the Uromastyx genus was based on the Egyptian Uromastyx – at the time called Lacerta aegyptia. In 1820, the name Uromastyx was coined for U. aegyptia and several other species no longer assigned to the genus.

Leiolepis butterfly agamas are found and do not cross into the territory of Africa & Middle East of Uromastyx, but does overlap with Saara in Pakistan & India.


Saara asmussi (Persian Spiny-tailed Lizard, formerly U. asmussi)
Saara loricata (Iraqi Spiny-tailed Lizard, formerly U. loricata)
Saara hardwickii (Indian Spiny-tailed Lizard, formerly U. hardwickii)

The Saara genus overlaps the Uromastyx in eastern Iraq and coastal southern Iran, and is present in southern Afghanistan, north-western India, and in Pakistan.


On the Phylogeny and Taxonomy of the Genus Uromastyx Merrem, 1820
(Reptilia: Squamata: Agamidae: Uromastycinae) – Resurrection of the Genus Saara Gray, 1845. 2009. Thomas M. Wilms, et al. : http://www.uroranch.com/Thomas/BzB_56_1_08_Wilms%2001-28-13.pdf

A long overdue taxonomic rearrangement of the
Uromastycinae (Squamata: Sauria: Agamidae). Raymond T. Hoser, Australasian Journal of Herpetology: http://www.smuggled.com/issue-23-pages-54-64.pdf

Fifteenth meeting of the Conference of the Parties Doha (Qatar), 13-25 March 2010: https://cites.org/eng/cop/15/prop/E-15-Prop-10.pdf

Aspects of the ecology of the Arabian spiny-tailed lizard
(Uromastyx aegyptia microlepis Blanford, 1875)
at Mahazat as-Sayd protected area, Saudi Arabia
Thomas M. Wilms SALAMANDRA August 20, 2010

Deer Fern Farm’s Species page http://deerfernfarms.com/Uromastyx_Species.htm

Review of the taxonomy of the spiny-tailed lizards of Arabia (Reptilia: Agamidae: Leiolepidinae: Uromastyx), Wilms et al 2007

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