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The uromastyx lizard, a relative of the iguana, ranges in size from 10 to 36 inches (25 to 91 cm) at full growth. Better known as the spiny-tailed lizard, its name derives from two Greek words: oura, meaning "tail," and mastigo, meaning "whip." As a species, the uromastyx is characterized by a heavy, muscular, thick-spiked tail that can be swung with great speed at an attacker. Its habitat is deserts where the terrain consists of hills, sand and rock.
As a burrowing lizard, this type of desert landscape gives the uromastyx terrain that is deep enough to burrow in and plenty of low structures under which it can hide. Shelter is readily available as is ease of access to vegetation. The powerful claws of the uromastyx lizard enable it to create spiral burrows that can reach as long as 10 feet (305 cm) in length in the wild. Usually, these lizards sleep with their tails close to the opening of the burrow in order to thwart predators. Most of their waking time during the day is spent hiding in these underground tunnels whenever danger appears or simply basking in the sun.
The uromastyx lizard likes to bask where surface temperatures reach more than 120 degrees Fahrenheit (49 degrees Celsius) and can be found in hot desert areas stretching from North Africa through the Middle East to Afghanistan, Pakistan and India. It inhabits an area that encompasses 30 countries and more than 5,000 miles (8,046 km). Uromastyx are found at elevations ranging from sea level to more than 3,000 feet (915 m).
A female uromastyx lizard is less colorful and smaller than a male of the species. Interestingly, when in captivity, the females of some species tend to mimic males in color. This is one reason that some species of the uromastyx are hard to breed in captivity. Depending on the species and age, a female uromastyx lizard might lay from five to 40 eggs. Hatchlings are about 2 inches (5.1 cm) long and grow about 2 inches (5.1 cm) in length each year until they are eight or nine years old.
In the past, an inadequate understanding of the environmental and dietary needs of the uromastyx lizard led to a somewhat poor survival rate for this species in captivity. Increased knowledge as well as better diet and overall care has led to improved longevity when kept as a pet. The Mali uromastyx generally is thought to be the ideal species to have as a pet because it adjusts readily to a captive environment.