How Do Lizards Lose Their Tails?

Why do some lizards regenerate their tails?

Is dropping tails normal?

For some new lizard owners, a dropped tail is freaky. 

In many cases, this is normal, though it may start you wondering:

How do lizards lose their tails?

Lizards have evolved to detach their tails as a defense mechanism. They have fracture planes in their tails, resulting in an easy detachment, letting them escape with their lives. Most lizards regrow their tails in a matter of months.

how do lizards lose their tails

How Do Lizards Lose Their Tails?

Tail detachment is typical for many lizards and not at all normal for some. 

In this section, we’ll go over the process and reasons behind losing tails. 

What Is Autotomy?

Autotomy is the process of self-amputations of limbs in animals. 

For lizards, this generally means tail detachment or dropping.

Tail dropping is a self-defense mechanism. 

When in a tough situation with a predator, the tail becomes a distraction, still moving on its own after detachment.

 Lizards will also drop their tails if their tails become stuck. 

Tail dropping is usually a very last resort.

Lizards detach their tails through fracture planes. 

If their tails are hit or stressed in some way, the tail muscles pull apart from each other instead of coming together. 

The tail then falls off along the line of a weakened muscle. 

There is generally very small or no blood loss when the tail detaches.

In most species, a lizard’s tail is replaced with musculature around cartilage instead of bone. 

Lizards have around three hundred specific genes for tail regeneration. 

It takes a period of weeks to months for a tail to regrow. 

A regrown tail is usually shorter than the original one and most likely will never be the same as the original.

Does Tail Detachment Hurt?

Reptiles, according to experts, do have the neurological capacity to feel pain. 

However, the small amount of blood loss and the evolution of the tail fracture plane in lizards suggest tail dropping is not a painful process for them.

Though it may not be painful, a tail loss is still a cause of stress for lizards. 

Lizards use their tails in multiple ways, including a communicator, fat storage, and balance and weight distribution. 

During recovery, a lizard will need extra food to compensate for the tail loss. 

If a tailless lizard meets with others of its species, the other lizards might bully the tailless one. 

Lizards without tails are less likely to mate or be able to establish hunting territories.

A lizard will also lose one indicator of its mood when it loses its tail. 

Lizards use their tails to communicate with each other and to give predators a signal to back off. 

In captivity, a lizard will no longer be able to communicate with its owner through the use of its tail if it drops.

What If My Lizard’s Tail Drops?

If your pet lizard drops its tail, stay calm. 

This is a natural process for them. 

Depending on the species, the tail will grow back over time.  

A crested gecko is the only known species which will not grow back its tail if dropped.

In the immediate aftermath, throw away your lizard’s tail. 

There is no way to reattach it, and your lizard will no longer need it. 

There may be a small amount of bleeding. 

If you see excessive bleeding, apply pressure to the detachment site with clean gauze or a clean hand towel and contact your veterinarian.

Change out your lizard’s substrate for paper towels during tail regrowth. 

This will help keep the detachment stump dry and prevent impaction of dirt or bedding material in the stump. 

Keep your lizard’s environment clean and at appropriate temperatures and humidity. 

Keep an eye on the detachment site for any signs of infection, including redness, swelling, and discharge. 

Contact your veterinarian if you think the detachment site may be infected.

A lost tail means lost fat storage. 

Offering your lizard extra food during tail regrowth may help them rebuild their fat reserves. 

Maintain good nutrition through appropriate food for your lizard and nutritional supplements.

How Do I Prevent Tail Dropping?

Most care for tail detachment is preventative. 

Keeping your lizard healthy in an appropriate environment with adequate hydration and nutrition is the best way to prevent tail dropping.

Some lizards may drop their tails out of stress.

Make sure your lizard’s enclosure has enough hides and visual barriers to help them feel safe. 

If your lizard species do not cohabitate well with others, make sure it is in its enclosure. 

Cohabitation especially may cause more stress and bullying from other lizards after tail detachment.

Make sure nothing in your lizard’s environment could accidentally result in a stuck tail. 

Your lizard may have to drop its tail to escape from a fallen hide or branch.

Do not grab your pet lizard by its tail. 

Even if you have built up enough trust with your lizard to handle it, grabbing it by the tail will still cause stress and may remind them instinctually of a predator. 

Offer your hand gently from the front or side of the lizard. 

Ensure your other family members and friends, especially children, know how to handle your pet properly.

If you have ruled out these reasons for tail detachment, but it still occurs, contact your veterinarian. 

Tail dropping may be a sign of an underlying condition or illness.

Keep in mind your lizard may still drop its tail despite these efforts and your preventative care. 

Fortunately, this is a natural process for lizards, and the tail, in most cases, will regrow over time. 

Monitor the loss site and keep your lizard comfortable and safe.

Conclusion

We hope you have enjoyed learning about how lizards lose their tails.

Lizards have evolved fracture planes in their tails, detaching them with no damage to the rest of their bodies and very little blood loss. 

Even though tail loss might not be painful for them, it causes stress, and recovery takes weeks or months. 

Most species of lizards regrow their tails. 

If your pet lizard detaches its tail, keep its environment safe and clean. Monitor the detachment site for possible infection.