Ornate spiny-tailed lizard (Uromastyx ornata)
|Also known as:||ornate dabb lizard, ornate mastigure|
|Synonyms:||Uromastyx ocellata ornata, Uromastyx ocellatus ornatus, Uromastyx ornatus, Uromastyx philbyi|
|Size||Total length: up to 40 cm (2)|
Snout-vent length: up to 20.5 cm (3)
|Weight||up to 300 g (2)|
- As its name suggests, the ornate spiny-tailed lizard has rows of spiky scales on its tail.
- The ornate spiny-tailed lizard has bright colouration and striking patterning, making it popular in the pet trade.
- The ornate spiny-tailed lizard is adapted to hot, dry habitats with sparse vegetation.
- The ornate spiny-tailed lizard often lives in small groups, with a dominant male and multiple females.
- Male ornate spiny-tailed lizards have been seen turning a female over and walking in circles over her abdomen, but the reasons for this behaviour are unclear.
The ornate spiny-tailed lizard is classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List (1), and is listed on Appendix II of CITES (4).
The ornate spiny-tailed lizard (Uromastyx ornata) is a medium-sized lizard with short, powerful legs and a large, bulky body (3). Like other Uromastyx species, the ornate spiny-tailed lizard has rows of spiky scales on the tail, arranged in distinct rings or ‘whorls’. The tail is broad and lies flat against the ground (3). The ornate spiny-tailed lizard has a longer tail than other closely related species from the genus Uromastyx (1).
This species varies greatly in colour, both within and between the sexes (3), as well as with age (5). The male ornate spiny-tailed lizard is strikingly coloured, being predominantly blue, green or red, with an irregular reddish-brown, net-like pattern on the back. There are also yellow spots and sometimes yellow cross-bands on the back, and dark patterning on the belly (3).
The female ornate spiny-tailed lizard is much duller than the male, being pale brown with dark brown spots, or sometimes light yellow or red spots. The underside of the female’s body is pale yellowish or white, and lacks any patterning (3) (5). Juvenile ornate spiny-tailed lizards are cream or pale brown with a black stripe pattern (5).
The ornate spiny-tailed lizard is split into two subspecies, Uromastyx ornata ornata and Uromastyx ornata philbyi (3).
The ornate spiny-tailed lizard is quite widely distributed across eastern Egypt, southern Israel and Saudi Arabia (1) (2) (3).
Found in rocky deserts, the ornate spiny-tailed lizard is well adapted to areas with high temperatures, very low rainfall and little vegetation (2) (3). In general, Uromastyx species are found on firm soil or rocky surfaces with sheltered crevices, but rarely spend time on sand (3).
The ornate spiny-tailed lizard typically shelters in rock crevices on the steep slopes of wadis, but descends to the lower slopes for courtship, mating and feeding (2). This species has sometimes been known to climb Acacia trees (3).
The ornate spiny-tailed lizard is mostly herbivorous, feeding on the leaves, seeds and flowers of many desert shrubs, including Ochradenus baccatus (2) (3). However, it is an opportunistic species and will also occasionally feed on invertebrates (3).
This species is active during the day (2) (3) (6), with its most active time being around midday during the hottest months of the year (2). The ornate spiny-tailed lizard often basks in the hot sun (7).
The ornate spiny-tailed lizard typically lives in small groups consisting of one male and multiple females. The dominant male will attack and chase other males from the group’s home range, but does not maintain a strict territory (2).
Male ornate spiny-tailed lizards have been seen to turn a female onto her back and walk in a circular motion over her abdomen. There is no known reason for this strange behaviour, but it may be related to the bond between the dominant male and the females in its group (2). In June, the female ornate spiny-tailed lizard digs a hole in the desert floor in which to lay the eggs. Around 7 to 17 eggs are usually laid, and take up to 2 months to hatch. Once hatched, it takes only four days for the juveniles to leave the nest and begin to fend for themselves (2).
Ornate spiny-tailed lizards reach sexual maturity and begin to reproduce from about 2 to 4 years old, and can live for up to 20 years (2) (6).
The ornate spiny-tailed lizard is not currently thought to be under threat in Egypt due to its remote and inhospitable habitat. However, its numbers are surprisingly low there compared to parts of Israel (2) (6). Due to their large size and bright colouration, Uromastyx species have been traded as pets for many years, and have also been captured for food and for use in traditional medicines. This is likely to present the most significant threat to their wild populations (2) (6). Although trade restrictions are now in place for the ornate spiny-tailed lizard, there is still the possibility of illegal trade (2).
The habitat of the ornate spiny-tailed lizard is heavily grazed by livestock, and the reduction of suitable food resources may present a further threat to its populations (2). Off-road vehicles also have the potential to disturb this species and cause damage to its fragile habitat, although this is likely to be only a localised threat and is mostly restricted to a few designated routes (2).
In the Mediterranean region, the ornate spiny-tailed lizard has been classified as Near Threatened (NT) according to IUCN Red List criteria (8). It is also listed under Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), meaning that any international trade in the ornate spiny-tailed lizard should be carefully monitored and controlled (4).
Since 1991, it has been illegal to export the ornate spiny-tailed lizard out of Egypt (6). The Red Book of Vertebrates in Israel considers this species to be ‘endangered’ in Israel due to its small, highly fragmented populations. All the habitats of the ornate spiny-tailed lizard are now protected in Israel, and most occur in the Eilat Mountains Nature Reserve, which is entirely protected. The ornate spiny-tailed lizard is classed as ‘protected wildlife’ under the Israel Wildlife Protection Law of 1955, which states that it is illegal to buy, sell, injure or kill this species, or to breed it in captivity (2).
Specific walking trails and 4x4 vehicle routes have been marked in parts of the Eilat Mountains Nature Reserve in an attempt to reduce the impacts of hikers and off-road vehicles on the ornate spiny-tailed lizard’s habitat (2).
Find out more about the ornate spiny-tailed lizard and other reptiles:
The Reptile Database:
More information on reptile conservation:
International Reptile Conservation Foundation:
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:
- Genus: a category used in taxonomy, which is below ‘family’ and above ‘species’. A genus tends to contain species that have characteristics in common. The genus forms the first part of a ‘binomial’ Latin species name; the second part is the specific name.
- Herbivorous: having a diet that comprises only vegetable matter.
- Home range: the area occupied by an animal during routine activities, which is not actively defended.
- Invertebrates: animals with no backbone, such as insects, crustaceans, worms, molluscs, spiders, cnidarians (jellyfish, corals, sea anemones) and echinoderms.
- Subspecies: a population usually restricted to a geographical area that differs from other populations of the same species, but not to the extent of being classified as a separate species.
- Territory: an area occupied and defended by an animal, a pair of animals or a colony.
- Wadis: mountain canyons found in North Africa and the Middle East that only carry water when it rains.
IUCN Red List (February, 2013)
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:
- Wilms, T.M. and Böhme, W. (2007) Review of the taxonomy of the spiny-tailed lizards of Arabia (Reptilia: Agamidae: Leiolepidinae: Uromastyx). Fauna of Arabia, 23: 435-468.
CITES (February, 2011)
- Baha El Din, S. (2006) A Guide to the Reptiles and Amphibians of Egypt. American University in Cairo Press, Cairo.
Knapp, A. (2004) An Assessment of the International Trade in Spiny-tailed Lizards Uromastyx with a Focus on the Role of the European Union. Technical Report to the European Commission, TRAFFIC Europe. Available at:
- Bartlett, R.D. (2003) Spiny-tailed Agamids (Uromastyx and Xenogama). Barron’s Educational Series, New York, USA.
Cox, N., Chanson, J. and Stuart, S. (2006) The Status and Distribution of Reptiles and Amphibians of the Mediterranean Basin. IUCN, Gland, Switzerland and Cambridge, UK. Available at: