The Lizard Loses Its Tail

One of the marvels of nature–even for a small creature like the house lizard–is how it is able to lose what it does not truly need, in that very moment. This loss is neither permanent and nor is it forever. It reminds us that while certain aspects of ourselves are ‘nice to have’; we do not actually need it.

In the event that the lizard is being hunted, it just ditches its tail. This acts as a distraction for the predator as the tail continues to wiggle for some time after it has been removed. This defence mechanism is a last resort. It is only employed after the lizard has used other less-costly attempts at escape. The act of self-amputating a limb is known as autotomy.

The best way to prevent tail loss in lizards is to reduce stress and handle lizards in a way that makes them feel safe and secure. While this is possible for the house lizard, it isn’t always possible for lizards that survive and live in the wild.

It always costs us something to lose something. One cost of the lizard’s tail loss is to the immune system. It results in a much weakened immune system which allows other harmful organisms to harm the lizard further, in effect, reducing its health and lifespan.

A lizard’s tail plays a significant role in locomotion as well as energy storage of fat deposits. It is too valuable to be dropped haphazardly. Some lizards even return to a dropped tail after the threat has passed. They will even eat it to recover what they have sacrificed in order to defend themselves. Some species have even been known to attack rivals and grab their tails, which they eat after their opponents have left their own tails behind.

Other species within the same family have adapted to mitigate the cost of autotomy. For instance, toxic salamanders will delay autotomy until the predator moves its jaws up the tail or holds on for a longer period of time. This allows the salamander to retain its tail and rely on toxicity alone to ward off predators.


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