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Geckos - Tail Loss

Geckos Can Drop Their Tails, then Grow a New One!

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Gecko tail

It looks as though this wild gecko has regrown its tail -- note how most of the tail is a different color than the rest of the gecko.

Photo © Lianne McLeod
Some species of gecko have an interesting defense mechanism: they will drop their tail if threatened or if their tail is grabbed. The dropped tail will actually wiggle and twitch on the ground. This tail loss distracts the predator, allowing the gecko to get away while the predator is left holding just a tail. Of course, if you try to grab your gecko by the tail, the same thing is likely to happen.

Why a Gecko Drops Its Tail
Being grabbed or threatened aren't the only reasons a gecko might drop its tail. Tail loss can happen for a number of reasons, and tends to be more common in younger geckos:

  • tail being grabbed
  • being bullied by other geckos sharing a tank
  • stress/fear
  • illness
  • infections

Tail Loss Mechanism
This tail dropping type of defense is called autotomy, and if it happens to your gecko do not panic. They are designed to do this, with special connective tissue in the tail that creates a "weak spot" where the tail breaks off readily. If a gecko drops its tail, the blood vessels to the tail will constrict, so very little blood loss occurs. Eventually, the gecko will grow a new tail, though it is likely to have a different appearance than the original tail. The photo on the right shows a gecko I spotted at an outdoor restaurant that appears to have regrown its tail (their tails are normally the same bright green/turquoise as on the body).

If Your Gecko has Lost a Tail
Usually geckos deal well with tail loss, but there are a few things you can do to ensure the whole process of tail loss and regrowing a new tail goes smoothly.

  • Use paper towels for substrate. Loose substrates can get into the wound and lead to infections, so change out the substrate to paper towels at least until the tail is regrown. Change the paper towels often to keep the environment clean.
  • Isolate a gecko with tail loss from other geckos, as other geckos may bully a gecko that has dropped its tail.
  • Watch the stump for signs of infection and consult your vet if there is any swelling, redness or oozing at the site of tail loss.
  • Evaluate your temperatures and humidity to make sure the environment is ideal. Tail loss and regrowth is stressful and you want to make sure conditions are ideal for your gecko. Additionally, improper environment can be a source of stress that could contribute to tail loss in the first place.
  • Make sure the gecko is eating well; you can ramp up the amount you normally feed a bit since tail loss is stressful and also means loss of the gecko's fat stores. However, make sure crickets (or other prey) not eaten within about 15 minutes are removed from the tank, or the crickets may try to nibble on the gecko.
To see a fascinating series of photos showing a leopard gecko regrowing its tail, see Treating a Leopard Gecko with a Dropped Tail at Hubpages.com.
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