What is meant by autotomy?« Back to Questions List

Autotomy or self amputation is the name given to the behavior of an animal whereby it sheds its parts as self defense mechanism to escape from its predators. For most lizards the tail acts as a rudder. It helps the lizard change its direction while moving. Lizards that run on their hind legs use the tail as a counterweight. Chameleons can grasp branches in monkey fashion with their tails. Some desert lizards have tails armored with spikes, used as clubs to ward off predators; lizard such as Gila monster, store fat in the tail.




It is sometimes to a lizard’s advantage to lose its tail. When a hawk or other predator grabs the tail (which may be brightly colored or waved about), the tail breaks off, and the lizard scampers to safety. Skin, muscles, blood supply, nerves, and bone separate when the tail is dropped. After it falls to the ground, the severed tail continues to wiggle, further diverting attention away from its owner, which grows a replacement within a month or two. Healing and regeneration of tail takes a significant amount of energy. On the other hand losing its tail, it becomes more susceptible to predators.


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