Ocellated spinytail (Uromastyx ocellata)

Ocellated spinytail
IUCN Red List species status – Least Concern LEAST

Top facts

  • The ocellated spinytail is named for the white, eye-like markings, or ‘ocelli’, on its back.
  • Like other spinytail lizards, the ocellated spinytail is characterised by rows of spiny scales on its tail and hind limbs.
  • The ocellated spinytail often lives in small colonies.
  • The ocellated spinytail is capable of living in extremely hot, dry environments.
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Ocellated spinytail fact file

Ocellated spinytail description

GenusUromastyx (1)

As its common name suggests, the ocellated spinytail (Uromastyx ocellata) has many white ‘ocelli’, or eye-like markings, arranged in bands across its back. It is a member of a group of lizards known as spiny-tailed lizards due to the rows of spiny scales that cover the tail and hind limbs (4).

The colouration of the ocellated spinytail ranges from dull browns to greens and yellows, depending on the age and sex of the individual (4). Males of breeding age are typically bright green, with orange bars across the back and a yellow-green tail. Females are dull brown with a red throat. Juvenile ocellated spinytails have the same markings as adults, but are much drabber in colour (4).

The bright colouration and markings of the adult ocellated spinytail give it a striking appearance, and this has made it a popular species in the exotic pet trade (2).

Also known as
eyed dabb lizard, eyed spiny-tailed lizard, ocellated mastigure, ocellated spiny-tailed lizard, ocellated uromastyx.
Aporoscelis princeps.
Total length: 28 - 32 cm (2)

Ocellated spinytail biology

The diet of the ocellated spinytail consists mainly of plant matter, particularly Acacia trees, which they climb to feed on (1) (2) (4). Occasionally, young individuals in captivity have also been observed to feed on insects and other invertebrates (2).

The ocellated spinytail is active during the day, usually emerging from its refuge mid-morning and remaining active until well after noon (4). This species often lives in small colonies (1).

The breeding biology of the ocellated spinytail is not well known. However, Uromastyx species generally lay eggs in clutches of 8 to 20, with the eggs hatching after 8 to 10 weeks. The eggs are laid in the female’s burrow in late spring to early summer, or at the start of the dry season, and the hatchlings stay in the burrow for several weeks before leaving to establish a burrow of their own (2).

Like other small Uromastyx species, the ocellated spinytail is likely to reach sexual maturity at 2 to 3 years of age, and may live to around 25 years old (2).


Ocellated spinytail range

The ocellated spinytail occurs across northeast Africa, in Egypt, northern Sudan, Eritrea, Djibouti and north-western Somalia (1) (2) (5). It is also reported to occur in Ethiopia, near the Somali border (2) (5).


Ocellated spinytail habitat

The ocellated spinytail is able to survive in intensely hot, arid environments, and is most commonly found in mountainous, rocky deserts with sparse vegetation (4). In these areas, it generally lives in wadis with Acacia trees (1) (2) (4).

Although it usually seeks refuge in rocky crevices within the wadi, the ocellated spinytail may occasionally dig its own burrow (1) (2) (4).


Ocellated spinytail status

The ocellated spinytail is classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List (1) and is listed on Appendix II of CITES (3).

IUCN Red List species status – Least Concern


Ocellated spinytail threats

Although the ocellated spinytail is widespread and apparently fairly common in parts of its range, it is thought to be declining in some areas. A popular species in the pet trade, it is under pressure from collection from the wild (1) (2), and is also sometimes collected for food (2). As the ocellated spinytail tends to live in colonies in patches of suitable habitat, collectors are easily able to take large numbers of individuals, further exacerbating this threat (1).

The ocellated spinytail is also believed to be threatened by habitat degradation from quarrying and the loss of Acacia trees to produce charcoal (1) (2). In the parts of its range bordering the Mediterranean, this combination of threats has led to the species being classified as Near Threatened according to IUCN criteria (2).


Ocellated spinytail conservation

No exports of the ocellated spinytail have been recorded from Egypt since 1998, following a ban on the trade in this species there. This means that exports from Egypt are no longer considered a threat to the ocellated spinytail (2). In Ethiopia, the number of individuals exported is based on an assessment of the wild population in an attempt to minimise the impacts of collection (2).

In Sudan, the main exporter of this species, there is a lack of systematic population monitoring. However, annual exports are currently low and so unlikely to have a large impact on the ocellated spinytail population (2). No trade in this species has been reported from the other countries in which it occurs (2).

The ocellated spinytail occurs in a number of protected areas throughout its range. Its listing on Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) means that any international trade in the ocellated spinytail should be carefully monitored and controlled (3). As this species is particularly vulnerable to over-collection, it is important that its population size and the levels of collection and trade are monitored, and that effective legislation is put in place to prevent population declines (1).


Find out more

Find out more about the ocellated spinytail and other reptiles:

More information on reptile conservation:



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:

This species information was authored as part of the Arkive and Universities Scheme.


Animals with no backbone, such as insects, crustaceans, worms, molluscs, spiders, cnidarians (jellyfish, corals, sea anemones) and echinoderms.
Mountain canyons found in North Africa and the Middle East that only carry water when it rains.


  1. IUCN Red List (February, 2011)
  2. Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (2006) Review of Significant Trade in Specimens of Appendix-II Species: Species Selected Following COP12. Twenty-second Meeting of the Animals Committee, 7-13 July 2006, Lima, Peru. Available at:
  3. CITES (May, 2012)
  4. Baha El Din, S. (2006) A Guide to the Reptiles and Amphibians of Egypt. American University in Cairo Press, Cairo.
  5. The Reptile Database (May, 2012)

Image credit

Ocellated spinytail  
Ocellated spinytail

© Peter Stafford / The Natural History Museum, London

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