Why Do Lizards Have Long Tails?

Are you interested in getting a lizard pet?

Do you wonder about their body and why they are the way they are?

Lizards are our bread and butter here at Oddly Cute Pets, but not everyone knows about the functions each of their body parts serve. 

One of the unique features of a lizard is their tails. 

But why do lizards have long tails?

There are a few reasons why most lizards have long tails. Lizards use their tails for balance, fat storage, and, sometimes, to grab onto things. Lizards will also drop their tails as a defense mechanism and as a social signal to other lizards of its species. Some lizards, however, do not have long tails.

why do lizards have long tails

Reasons Why Lizards Have Long Tails

In this section, we’ll go over the common reasons experts believe lizards evolved to have long tails.

The case changes from species to species, but these reasons cover the most common purposes a tail serves. 

Balance

Most animals with long tails use them for balance and weight distribution. 

Giraffes are a mammalian example. 

With lizards, a long tail aids in actions like running across the ground. 

A long-tailed grass lizard, for example, uses its tail for balance while “swimming” across the tall grass.

They have incredibly long tails, over three times their body length. 

This species is found across Southeast Asia. 

It is also a popular pet lizard.

Tail Detachment

When a lizard is in a dangerous position with a predator, it often sacrifices and drops its tail. 

This is a process called autotomy. 

Lizards’ tails are constructed for this purpose, with the blood vessels and musculature designed to sever the tail from the rest of its body if it needs. 

Species with this capability include geckos, anoles, and iguanas. 

This leaves the tail with the predator and lets the lizard escape with its life.

A lizard’s tail will grow back over time, usually over months or years, though the tail will most likely never be the same. 

A crested gecko, however, is one species which does not grow its tail back after detachment.

There could be several reasons why your pet lizard’s tail has dropped. 

This is a natural process, and depending on the species, the tail will grow back over time. 

However, a tail drop isn’t something you want to scare the lizard into doing. 

Monitor the tail stub for infection during this process, keeping your lizard comfortable and well-fed during this time. 

Extra feeding will help the tail grow back faster.

Prehensile Tails

Some species of lizards spend much of their lives in trees, traveling along branches and vines. 

We categorize these as arboreal lizards instead of terrestrial lizards, which spend much of their lives on the ground. 

For arboreal lizards like chameleons, prehensile-tailed skinks, and alligator lizards, tails become like extra limbs. 

Their prehensile tails wrap around vines and branches, keeping them stable while traveling from tree to tree or plant to plant. 

Fat Storage

In the wild, lizards will sometimes go through periods of starvation. 

Some of these periods are because of a lack of food in the surrounding environment. 

Around reproduction, when a female is putting all her energy into producing eggs, and a male is focusing on finding a mate, they may not have time or the desire to search for food. 

This is where their tails come in. 

A tail provides a backup source of food and a fat reserve to sustain a lizard for lean periods of its life.

You will mostly see fat tails in species like the leopard gecko and the African fat-tailed gecko. 

In their wild habitats, mostly scrubland and deserts, these geckos’ tails provide ample fat storage, keeping these lizards alive if they cannot find food. 

If you own one of these geckos, its tail should be thick and fat. 

However, you will also need to keep an eye on its overall weight, as obesity could be a problem.

Body Language and Communication

Lizards also use their tails to communicate. 

You may have noticed your pet lizard waving its tail back and forth or rattling it.

These signals would be used with other lizards or predators in the wild, telling them to back off or signaling excitement for mating. 

In captivity, these tail motions may be a sign of stress, a sign of excitement for food, or any number of messages.

We recommend looking up a species-specific body language guide for the meanings behind your pet’s tail movements.

Social Signals

The presence and length of a tail, or lack thereof, on a lizard sometimes signals social status to other lizards of its same species. 

Lizards without tails are generally less likely to find mates and will have difficulty establishing their territories.

In captivity, when a leopard gecko loses its tail and is cohabitating with other leopard geckos, the other geckos may bully the tailless gecko. 

This is also true in the wild. 

However, leopard geckos in the wild are less likely to encounter each other. 

A smaller environment, like an enclosure, provides more opportunities for bullying.

Are There Lizards With Short Tails?

Yes, there are a few types and species of lizards with short tails or short tails relative to the rest of their bodies.

The short-tailed horned lizard, for example, endemic to Mexico, is a terrestrial desert lizard. 

It has a wide body and a tail which is so short it is sometimes difficult to see. 

It does not need a prehensile tail, like arboreal chameleons or alligator lizards.

Tiliqua rugosa, or shingleback skinks, are a group of short-tailed skinks native to Australia.

 In addition to being a terrestrial desert lizard with no need for a prehensile tail, the Tiliqua rugosa’s tail and its subspecies look like its head. 

This defense mechanism confuses the skink’s predators.

Glass lizards are a group of legless lizards endemic to the United States, especially the Midwest and the Southeast. 

Unlike snakes, glass lizards have eyelids and ears. 

They also do not have the same flexibility or musculature as snakes. 

One lizard of this group, the slender glass lizard, detaches its tail like many other lizards. 

However, the tail never fully grows back, becoming shorter and shorter every time it detaches.

Conclusion

We hope you have enjoyed learning why many lizards have long tails.

A long-tailed helps a lizard with balance. It provides a fat reserve for the lizard in times of starvation. 

A lizard uses its tail to communicate its feelings and its social status. 

Lizards detach their tails as a defense mechanism. 

Some lizards use their tails to grab onto branches and vines while traveling. 

There are a few species of lizard which do not have long tails at all.

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