|Egyptian spiny-tailed lizard (Uromastyx aegyptia)|
Uromastyx is a genus of African and Asian agamid lizards, the member species of which are commonly called spiny-tailed lizards, uromastyces, mastigures, or dabb lizards. Lizards in the genus Uromastyx are primarily herbivorous, but occasionally eat insects and other small animals, especially young lizards. They spend most of their waking hours basking in the sun, hiding in underground chambers at daytime or when danger appears. They tend to establish themselves in hilly, rocky areas with good shelter and accessible vegetation.
The generic name (Uromastyx) is derived from the Ancient Greek words ourá (οὐρά) meaning "tail" and -mastix (μαστιξ) meaning "whip" or "scourge", after the thick-spiked tail characteristic of all Uromastyx species.
- Uromastyx acanthinura Bell, 1825 – Bell's dabb lizard
- Uromastyx aegyptia (Forskål, 1775) – Egyptian mastigure, Leptien's mastigure
- Uromastyx alfredschmidti Wilms & Böhme, 2001 – Schmidt's mastigure
- Uromastyx benti (Anderson, 1894) – Bent's mastigure
- Uromastyx dispar Heyden, 1827 – Sudan mastigure
- Uromastyx geyri (L. Müller, 1922) – Saharan spiny-tailed lizard
- Uromastyx macfadyeni Parker, 1932 – Macfadyen's mastigure
- Uromastyx occidentalis Mateo, Geniez, Lopez-Jurado & Bons, 1999 – giant spiny-tailed lizard
- Uromastyx ocellata Lichtenstein, 1823 – eyed dabb lizard
- Uromastyx ornata Heyden, 1827 – ornate mastigure
- Uromastyx princeps O’Shaughnessy, 1880 – princely mastigure
- Uromastyx thomasi Parker, 1930 – Oman spiny-tailed lizard
- Uromastyx yemenensis Wilms & Schmitz, 2007 – Yemen spiny-tailed lizard
Their size ranges from 25 cm (10 in) (U. macfadyeni) to 91 cm (36 in) or more (U. aegyptia). Hatchlings or neonates are usually no more than 7–10 cm (3–4 in) in length. Like many reptiles, these lizards' colors change according to the temperature; during cool weather they appear dull and dark but the colors become lighter in warm weather, especially when basking; the darker pigmentation allows their skin to absorb sunlight more effectively.
Their spiked tail is muscular and heavy, and can be swung at an attacker with great velocity, usually accompanied by hissing and an open-mouthed display of (small) teeth. Uromastyxs generally sleep in their burrows with their tails closest to the opening, in order to thwart intruders.
Uromastyx inhabit a range stretching through most of North and Northeast Africa, the Middle East, ranging as far east as Iran. Species found further east are now placed in the genus Saara. Uromastyx occur at elevations from sea level to well over 900 m (3,000 ft). They are regularly eaten, and sold in produce markets, by local peoples. Uromastyx tend to bask in areas with surface temperatures of over 50 °C (120 °F).
A female Uromastyx can lay anywhere from 5 to 40 eggs, depending on age and species. Eggs are laid approximately 30 days following copulation with an incubation time of 70–80 days. The neonates weigh 4–6 g (0.14–0.21 oz) and are about 5 cm (2 in) snout to vent length. They rapidly gain weight during the first few weeks following hatching.
A field study in Algeria concluded that Moroccan spiny-tailed lizards add approximately 5 cm (2 in) of total growth each year until around the age of 8–9 years.
Wild female uromastyx are smaller and less colorful than males. For example, U. (dispar) maliensis females are often light tan with black dorsal spots, while males are mostly bright yellow with mottled black markings. Females also tend to have shorter claws. In captivity female U. (dispar) maliensis tend to mimic males in color. Maliensis are, therefore, reputably difficult to breed in captivity.
These lizards acquire most of the water they need from the vegetation they ingest. Giving a Uromastyx a water bowl can lead to higher humidity in the cage and can cause problems for the animal.
Consumption by humans
Uromastyx maliensis, known as "dabb" (ضَبّ) by peninsular Arabs, is consumed as food by the Bedouin populations of the Arabian peninsula, mainly those residing in the interior regions of Saudi Arabia. This lizard is considered a "bedouin delicacy". An example of this is attributed to a hadith by Muhammad. A Sahih Hadith recorded that when an Uromastyx was brought to Muhammad by Bedouins from the Najd, namely Hufaida bint al-Harith, Muhammad did not eat the lizard but other Muslims were not prohibited by him from consuming it so Muhammad's companion Khalid bin Walid consumed the lizard. Dried lizard tonic was monopolized by the Hashemites before the Saudi family seized Medina and Mecca from them.
A Sahih Muslim Hadith on lizard states:
وَحَدَّثَنِي أَبُو الطَّاهِرِ، وَحَرْمَلَةُ، جَمِيعًا عَنِ ابْنِ وَهْبٍ، قَالَ حَرْمَلَةُ أَخْبَرَنَا ابْنُ وَهْبٍ، أَخْبَرَنِي يُونُسُ، عَنِ ابْنِ شِهَابٍ، عَنْ أَبِي أُمَامَةَ بْنِ سَهْلِ بْنِ حُنَيْفٍ الأَنْصَارِيِّ، أَنَّ عَبْدَ اللَّهِ، بْنَ عَبَّاسٍ أَخْبَرَهُ أَنَّ خَالِدَ بْنَ الْوَلِيدِ الَّذِي يُقَالُ لَهُ سَيْفُ اللَّهِ أَخْبَرَهُ أَنَّهُ، دَخَلَ مَعَ رَسُولِ اللَّهِ صلى الله عليه وسلم عَلَى مَيْمُونَةَ زَوْجِ النَّبِيِّ صلى الله عليه وسلم وَهِيَ خَالَتُهُ وَخَالَةُ ابْنِ عَبَّاسٍ فَوَجَدَ عِنْدَهَا ضَبًّا مَحْنُوذًا قَدِمَتْ بِهِ أُخْتُهَا حُفَيْدَةُ بِنْتُ الْحَارِثِ مِنْ نَجْدٍ فَقَدَّمَتِ الضَّبَّ لِرَسُولِ اللَّهِ صلى الله عليه وسلم وَكَانَ قَلَّمَا يُقَدَّمُ إِلَيْهِ طَعَامٌ حَتَّى يُحَدَّثَ بِهِ وَيُسَمَّى لَهُ فَأَهْوَى رَسُولُ اللَّهِ صلى الله عليه وسلم يَدَهُ إِلَى الضَّبِّ فَقَالَتِ امْرَأَةٌ مِنَ النِّسْوَةِ الْحُضُورِ أَخْبِرْنَ رَسُولَ اللَّهِ صلى الله عليه وسلم بِمَا قَدَّمْتُنَّ لَهُ . قُلْنَ هُوَ الضَّبُّ يَا رَسُولَ اللَّهِ . فَرَفَعَ رَسُولُ اللَّهِ صلى الله عليه وسلم يَدَهُ فَقَالَ خَالِدُ بْنُ الْوَلِيدِ أَحَرَامٌ الضَّبُّ يَا رَسُولَ اللَّهِ قَالَ " لاَ وَلَكِنَّهُ لَمْ يَكُنْ بِأَرْضِ قَوْمِي فَأَجِدُنِي أَعَافُهُ " . قَالَ خَالِدٌ فَاجْتَرَرْتُهُ فَأَكَلْتُهُ وَرَسُولُ اللَّهِ صلى الله عليه وسلم يَنْظُرُ فَلَمْ يَنْهَنِي .
"'Abdullah b. 'Abbas reported that Khalid b. Walid who is called the Sword of Allah had informed him that he visited Maimuna, the wife of Allah's Apostle (ﷺ), in the company of Allah's Messenger (ﷺ), and she was the sister of his mother (that of Khalid) and that of 'Ibn Abbas, and he found with her a roasted lizard which her sister Hufaida the daughter of al-Harith had brought from Najd, and she presented that lizard to Allah's Messenger (ﷺ). It was rare that some food was presented to the Prophet (ﷺ) and it was not mentioned or named. While Allah's Messenger (ﷺ) was about to stretch forth his hand towards the lizard, a woman from amongst the women present there informed the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) what they had presented to him. They said: Messenger of Allah, it is a lizard. Allah's Messenger (ﷺ) withdrew his hand, whereupon Khalid b. Walid said: Messenger of Allah, is a lizard forbidden? Thereupon he said: No, but it is not found in the land of my people, and I feel that I have no liking for it. Khalid said: I then chewed and ate it, and Allah's Messenger (ﷺ) was looking at me and he did not forbid (me to eat it).
حَدَّثَنَا أَبُو النُّعْمَانِ، حَدَّثَنَا أَبُو عَوَانَةَ، عَنْ أَبِي بِشْرٍ، عَنْ سَعِيدِ بْنِ جُبَيْرٍ، عَنِ ابْنِ عَبَّاسٍ، أَنَّ أُمَّ حُفَيْدٍ بِنْتَ الْحَارِثِ بْنِ حَزْن ٍ ـ خَالَةَ ابْنِ عَبَّاسٍ ـ أَهْدَتْ إِلَى النَّبِيِّ صلى الله عليه وسلم سَمْنًا وَأَقِطًا وَأَضُبًّا، فَدَعَا بِهِنَّ فَأُكِلْنَ عَلَى مَائِدَتِهِ، وَتَرَكَهُنَّ النَّبِيُّ صلى الله عليه وسلم كَالْمُسْتَقْذِرِ لَهُنَّ، وَلَوْ كُنَّ حَرَامًا مَا أُكِلْنَ عَلَى مَائِدَةِ النَّبِيِّ صلى الله عليه وسلم وَلاَ أَمَرَ بِأَكْلِهِنَّ.
"that his aunt, Um Hufaid bint Al-Harith bin Hazn, presented to the Prophet (ﷺ) butter, dried yoghurt and mastigures. The Prophet (ﷺ) invited the people to those mastigures and they were eaten on his dining sheet, but the Prophet (ﷺ) did not eat of it, as if he disliked it. Nevertheless. if it was unlawful to eat that, the people would not have eaten it on the dining sheet of the Prophet (ﷺ) nor would he have ordered that they be eaten."
The Marfu' Hadith number 1829 from Musnad Ishaq Ibn Rahwayh records Maymunah bint al-Harith mentioning an incident when Muhammad talks about Najdis eating the lizards. and appears under Hadith number 6069 (وعن ميمونة أنها أهدي لها ضب فأتاها رجلان من قومها فأمرت به فصنع ثم قربته إليهما فجاء رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم وهما يأكلان فرحب بهما ثم أخذ ليأكل فلما أخذ اللقمة إلى فيه قال: "ما هذا؟". قالت: ضب أهدي لنا. قالت: فوضع اللقمة وأراد الرجلان أن يطرحا ما في أفواههما فقال رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم: "لا تفعلا إنكم - أهل نجد - تأكلونها وإنا أهل تهامة نعافها". رواه الطبراني في الكبير وفيه يزيد بن أبي زياد وهو ممن يكتب حديثه مع ضعفه. )
One stereotype Persians have of Arabs is that they eat lizards. Persians use the slur "soosmar-khor" (سوسمار خور) ("lizard eater") against Arabs and the Persian poet Ferdowsi included a derogatory insulting verse against Arabs in his Shahnameh poem (زشیر شتر خوردن و سوسمار عرب را به جایی رسیده ست کار که فر کیانی کند آرزو تفو بر تو ای چرخ گردون تفو) (zasheer shatar khordan va soosmar) which is translated into Arabic as (مِن شُرب لبن الابل وأكل الضب بلغ العرب مبلغاً أن يطمحوا في تاج الملك؟ فتباً لك أيها الزمان وسحقا) or (ثم قال: أعلمنى بما أنت عليه من دينك، و رسمك و آيينك. و أخبرنى مَن سلطانك و بمن اعتضادك و اعتصامك. فقد جئت فى عساكر حفاة عراة بلا ثقل و لا رحل و لا فيل و لا تخت. ثم بلغ بكم الأمر من شربكم ألبان الإبل و أكلكم أضباب القيعان إلى تمنى أسرّة الملوك العجم أرباب التخوت و التيجان.), with the verse attributed to the Persian commander Rostam Farrokhzād as insulting the Arabs as camel milk drinkers and lizard eaters during the Muslim conquest of Persia.  Richard F. Burton translated the line as "Hath the Arabs daring performed such feat, Fed on camels milk and the lizard's meat, That he cast on Kayánian crown his eye? Fie, O whirling world! on thy faith and fie!"
Historically, captive Uromastyx had a poor survival rate, due to a lack of understanding of their dietary and environmental needs. In recent years, knowledge has significantly increased, and appropriate diet and care has led to survival rates and longevity approaching and perhaps surpassing those in the wild.
The Mali Uromastyx (Uromastyx (dispar) maliensis) is considered an ideal species of Uromastyx to choose as a pet because they readily adapt to a captive environment. Another species that adapts to captivity well, and comes in "red" and "yellow", is Uromastyx geyri, commonly called the Saharan Uromastyx. The red version is marketed as a red Niger Uromastyx but the yellow version is marketed as a yellow Niger Uromastyx. Artificial UVB/UVA light and vitamin supplements must be balanced with proper food and nutrition, UVB light is required for calcium absorption from the gut. Most commercially available UVB lights lose efficiency after 6 months and need to be replaced. Proper enclosures can be costly, as these are roaming animals with large space needs for their size, combined with the need to provide heat and ultraviolet light. Though the lizards bask at very high temperatures, there must be a temperature gradient within the enclosure allowing them to cool off away from the heat lamps. A cooling-down period over winter months can trigger the breeding response when temperatures rise in the spring. The temporary slowing-down of their metabolisms also lengthens the animals' lifespans.
Uromastyx are removed from the wild in an unregulated manner for the pet and medicinal trade in Morocco, despite their protected status in the country. Conditions of the animals while being sold is often extremely poor and overcrowding is common.
Uromastyx are burrowing lizards, and need substrate deep enough to burrow in, or a low structure under which to hide. In the wild, these lizards' burrows can reach 3 m (10 ft) in length.
Captive uromastyxs’ diets should be largely herbivorous, consisting primarily of endive, dandelion greens, bok choy, escarole, and most ground growing vegetables with little to no sugar, or of course an appropriate type of store-bought vegetarian lizard food. Some lettuces have almost no nutritive value. The lighter, whiter lettuce is not as nutritionally effective as the darker green lettuce. It is very important to avoid spinach, chard and flowering kale in the diets of all reptiles, since the oxalates in spinach prevent the uptake of calcium into the bloodstream. However, a special UVB bulb must be used in order for them to absorb the calcium from the gut. They can consume de-thorned cacti with their powerful jaws, especially if they need water. The lizards' food can be dusted with a calcium and a uromastyx designed supplement to help prevent health problems. While young uromastix, like young iguanas, do eat some insects in order to gain access to the added nutrients while they are rapidly growing, the high levels of protein may cause liver damage in adults. These animals are primarily herbivores, as stated above, and so it's generally felt that they should only be fed plant matter. In the wild, adult Malis have been reported to eat insects at certain times of the year, when it is hot and their only food source available would be insects.
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