Egyptian spiny-tailed lizard (Uromastyx aegyptia)

Also known as: dabb lizard, dhub, Egyptian dabb-lizard, Egyptian mastigure, Egyptian spiny-tailed agama
Synonyms: Lacerta aegyptia, Lacerta harbai, Lacerta herbai, Stellio spinipes, Uromastix aegyptius, Uromastix microlepis, Uromastix spinipes, Uromastyx aegyptius, Uromastyx microlepis
KingdomAnimalia
PhylumChordata
ClassReptilia
OrderSquamata
FamilyAgamidae
GenusUromastyx (1)
SizeTotal length: up to 76 cm (2)
Weightup to 2 kg (3)

The Egyptian spiny-tailed lizard is classified as Vulnerable (VU) on the IUCN Red List (1), and Listed on Appendix II of CITES (4).

The largest member of its genus (2) (3) (5), the Egyptian spiny-tailed lizard is easily recognised by the relatively short and heavily spined tail that gives the species its common name. The body is large and rather flat, with a large head and strong limbs (6) (7), and, like other members of the Agamidae, is capable of changing colour with body temperature (7), turning from black to white or yellow as the lizard warms up (5). The juvenile Egyptian spiny-tailed lizard is light grey-brown, with yellow bars and spots on the back, helping to distinguish it from the juvenile of the closely related Uromastyx leptieni (Leptien’s spiny-tailed lizard), which is an overall dark grey. The adults are more difficult to tell apart, but Leptien’s spiny-tailed lizard has coarser scales and enlarged flank scales (5).

The Egyptian spiny-tailed lizard is found from Sudan and Egypt, through Israel, Jordan, Syria, Iraq and Iran, and into the Arabian Peninsula (2) (3) (4). Subspecies Uromastyx aegyptia microlepis occurs in the United Arab Emirates and Oman (2).

The Egyptian spiny-tailed lizard typically occurs in arid and desert areas, where it may be found, for example, in gravel plains or wadis (3). The species constructs extensive burrows, up to 10 metres long and 1.8 metres deep, in firm sand, soil or soft rock (3) (5).

The Egyptian spiny-tailed lizard usually lives in colonies of several individuals, occupying an extensive territory. The deep burrows, which are used over many years, serve as a shelter from predators and from extreme desert conditions, and the lizard may hibernate in the burrow during winter months (3) (5). The Egyptian spiny-tailed lizard is active during the day, individuals basking at the burrow entrance to warm up before heading out to forage for leaves, buds, fruits, seeds and flowers (3) (5). The chisel-like teeth of this species are characteristic of agamid lizards, and, unlike in other lizards, are firmly fused to the jaw bones. In spiny-tailed lizards, the teeth wear down with age, and the bone develops sharp cutting edges (5) (7).

Mating in the Egyptian spiny-tailed lizard usually occurs around May (3), with the male performing complex courtship rituals to obtain matings (7). The female lays a single clutch of between 10 and 40 eggs, in May or June, in a deep burrow. The eggs hatch at the end of August. Juvenile Egyptian spiny-tailed lizards are very vulnerable to predation, with many killed during the first year by birds, other lizards or snakes. Those that survive reach sexual maturity at around 4 to 6 years (3), and can live for an impressive 33 years or more (8).

The main threat to the Egyptian spiny-tailed lizard is unsustainable collection from the wild, for food, traditional medicine, and the international pet trade, leading to local population depletions. Even where trapping is banned, illegal poaching is still often a problem (3). Although the desert habitats of this species are generally not under threat, as they are usually of little commercial value, habitat destruction due to agriculture, military training and development are also a problem in some areas. Erosion by off-road vehicles can damage burrows and their surroundings, and the lizards are sometimes killed by cars on roads, particularly males during the mating season (3).

The Egyptian spiny-tailed lizard receives some protection from international trade under its listing on Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) (4), and is also legally protected from hunting in parts of its range (3) (9). It also occurs in a number of protected areas (3).

Current conservation efforts for the species are directed at improving education and enforcement against poaching, as well as trying to prevent further habitat loss (3). In 2005, around 200 Egyptian spiny-tailed lizards were moved from the site of a planned second runway at Abu Dhabi International Airport, United Arab Emirates, as part of a ‘Save the Dhubs’ project, and were released into suitable habitat elsewhere (10). However, the success of this project is unclear (9). 

To find out more about this and other agamid lizards see:

This information is awaiting authentication by a species expert, and will be updated as soon as possible. If you are able to help please contact:
arkive@wildscreen.org.uk

  1. IUCN Red List (February, 2013) 
    http://www.iucnredlist.org/
  2. J. Craig Venter Institute: Reptiles Database (August, 2009) 
    http://www.jcvi.org/reptiles/search.php
  3. Nemtzov, S.C. (2008) Uromastyx Lizards in Israel. NDF Workshop Case Studies. WG-7 - Reptiles and Amphibians. Case Study 5. International Expert Workshop on CITES Non-Detriment Findings, Cancun, Mexico. Available at: 
    http://www.conabio.gob.mx/institucion/cooperacion_internacional/TallerNDF/Links-Documentos/WG-CS/WG7-ReptilesandAmphibians/WG7-CS5%20Uromastyx/WG7-CS5.pdf
  4. CITES (August, 2009) 
    http://www.cites.org/
  5. Hellyer, P. and Aspinall, S. (2005) The Emirates: A Natural History. Trident Press Limited, London.
  6. Schleich, H.H., Kästle, W. and Kabisch, K. (1995) Amphibians and Reptiles of North Africa. Koeltz Scientific Books, Koenigstein, Germany.
  7. Halliday, T. and Adler, K. (2002) The New Encyclopedia of Reptiles and Amphibians. Oxford University Press, Oxford.
  8. Bringsoe, H. (1998) Observations on growth and longevity in Uromastyx aegyptia (Forsskal, 1775) in the Negev Desert, southern Israel (Reptilia: Sauria: Agamidae). Faunistische Abhandlungen, 21: 19 - 21.
  9. Alsharhan, A et al. (2008) Terrestrial Environment of Abu Dhabi Emirate. Environment Agency, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.
  10. Khaleej Times: ‘Save the Dhubs’ project launched (August, 2009) 
    http://www.khaleejtimes.com/DisplayArticle.asp?xfile=data/theuae/2005/June/theuae_June110.xml&section=theuae&col