How Many Times Can A Lizard Regrow Its Tail?
Lizards are common inhabitants of the warmer areas around the world. They also make fun, fascinating pets.
The leopard gecko is the most common type of lizard kept as a pet, but many other species such as green anoles, red ackies, and bearded dragons also make fantastic pets. In addition to exhibiting many fascinating behaviors, lizards are famous for being able to “drop” their tails and then regrow the tail.
Lizards do this as a last-ditch defense mechanism against predators. When their life is being threatened, they initiate a process that “drops” the tail from a special fracture site.
The tail falls off and writhes around, distracting the predator while the lizard makes its escape. As a pet lizard owner, this can be distressing to observe (I can attest to this!), and before you get a pet lizard you need to understand this behavior and what to do in the event it happens to your lizard instead of just panicking, like I did when it happened to my lizard.
How many times can a lizard regrow its tail?
It’s not clear how many times a lizard can regrow its tail. Some people believe they can only “drop” and regrow it once, while others believe it can be “dropped” and regrown several times; the number of times may therefore depend on the species and how much of the tail was lost the first time.
Leopard geckos can clearly regrow their tails several times. Since the tail isn’t actually “pulled off”, it can only be “dropped” at special fracture points found in the original tail.
Regrown tails are composed of cartilage and have no fracture points, so the only way the re-grown tail can be “dropped” by the lizard is through fracture points in the remnant tail from the previous “drop”, indicating there are only a limited number of times a lizard can “drop” and regrow its tail before it runs out of fracture points. One group researched repeated tail drops and reported each successive tail regrowth took longer and longer to regrow.
What happens when a lizard loses its tail?
When a lizard loses its tail, it is a voluntary process. The tail doesn’t break off or get yanked off, it is deliberately shed in a process properly referred to as tail autotomy.
There are special fracture points in the tail where the lizard can shut off blood flow and separate the tissues, basically “dropping” or "shedding" the tail in response to a signal from its central nervous system in combination with a sharp spike in stress hormones.
Depending on the species of lizard, the fracture points are either between the vertebrae or actually run through the middle of certain vertebrae. After the tail drops off, it writhes and moves for 4 minutes while the lizard makes its escape.
Can all lizards regrow their tails?
No, not all lizards can regrow their tails. For example, the crested gecko can easily shed its tail but it will not grow back. Owners of crested geckos are cautioned to be very careful when handling them, cage them separately instead of in pairs or groups, and try not to expose them to loud noises or any other forms of stress in order to avoid scaring them into “dropping” their tails, because if it happens, you will be left with a permanently tailless lizard.
Does it hurt the lizard to lose its tail?
Although we can never be sure what the lizard actually feels during the tail loss process, most people seem to think they don’t feel any actual pain.
However, losing a tail can subject a lizard to considerable stress because re-growing a tail consumes considerable amounts of energy, and many lizards store their fat in their tails. Most lizards don’t act normally during the regeneration process due to the stress of re-growth and the lack of balance due to the missing tail.
Can lizards regrow their limbs?
No, lizards cannot regrow lost limbs or even toes.
What is a lizard's tail made out of?
A lizard’s tail is an extension of its spine. The basic structure of the tail consists of a series of small bones called vertebrae that surround and protect the spinal cord. The tail can bend in many different ways because of the joints between each of the vertebrae.
The bulk of the tail is composed of muscles that act to move the tail in order to balance the lizard as it runs and climbs. Some lizards use their tails as defensive or offensive weapons, rather like a whip. Some species of lizards, such as leopard geckos, also store fairly large amounts of fat in their tails that acts as an energy reserve when food is scarce; a gecko with a good store of fat in its tail can survive for up to 100 days without eating.
When it grows back, is it the same as the original?
Unfortunately, the new tail is often very different from the original tail. It may be shorter, thinner, and/or be a different color. However, the real differences can’t be seen because they are inside the tail. Unlike the original tail, which is composed of multiple bones, muscles, and skin, the new tail is made out of long tubes of cartilage instead of bone and abnormally long muscles stretching the length of the tail.
The re-growth process starts with a stub growing out of the lizard’s remaining tail and gradually elongates to form the new tail. Sometimes the change in color from the original can be startling. However, the new tail can be moved just like the original tail and functions like a normal tail. In some cases, the tail regeneration process does not work properly and strange things happen, like an abnormally shaped lump or multiple tails forming.
What should you do if your lizard loses its tail?
If your pet lizard “drops” its tail carefully observe the lizard for a few minutes. Usually there is no bleeding, but if there is bleeding, it is important to apply pressure on the stump with a folded paper towel until the bleeding stops.
The tail should be promptly discarded. The tail stump should not be cleaned, bandaged, or have antibiotic ointment applied to it.
However, until the tail starts to regrow it is important to keep the lizard’s habitat very clean and it might be wise to replace sand or bark bedding with paper towels until the tail starts to regrow to prevent any sand from sticking to the open wound.
During the regrowth process, it is important to maintain the lizard at its ideal temperature, humidity, and lighting conditions, and to provide good healthy food.
How long does it take to grow back?
How long it takes for the tail to grow back depends on the species of lizard, the lizard’s size, and how much of the tail was dropped; obviously, a tail tip will grow back faster than the entire tail.
For example, both the green anole and the leopard gecko take about two months to regrow their tails, but an iguana may take three months to a year to regrow its tail, depending on how large the iguana is.
Do all species have this ability?
Most but not all lizards can drop their tails, and some species that can drop their tails do not regrow them, like the crested gecko. The various types of monitor lizards, which tend to be large, carnivorous, and use their tails as weapons, cannot drop their tails, and if their tail is accidentally severed it will not grow back.
Most, but not all, types of lizards have the ability to shed part or all of their tail as a defense mechanism, when they are trying to escape their enemies. Although this can be traumatic for the lizard’s owner to observe, as I can attest (I totally panicked when it happened to my lizard) it is a natural process and most lizards readily re-grow a tail, although it may look somewhat different than the original tail.
Lizard owners can usually prevent tail-shedding by reducing the stress to their lizard, by being careful to not scare it during handling, and by slowly and carefully taming the lizard so that handling is not upsetting to the lizard. In addition, lizards kept in pairs or groups may fight and end up shedding their tails, so if you observe any signs of conflict between your lizards it may be best to house them separately.
If your lizard does drop its tail, it is important to make sure the lizard has plenty of highly nutritious food and optimal housing conditions to speed the healing process and watch in fascination as the lizard regrows its tail. I hope you enjoyed reading this article and find the presented information very useful in caring for your lizard.