Some geckos, skinks, and salamanders have the ability to sacrifice their tails in order to save their lives. During an attack, the tails of these reptiles and amphibians can detach -- and then continue wriggling, presumably from stored energy along the spinal column, creating a diversion that allows the prey to flee. This self-defense mechanism is called autotomy, or self-amputation.
The animal can partially regenerate its tail, usually over a period of weeks, but the new appendage is usually a different length, texture, or color from the original.
Take it, I can grow another:
- In most lizards, autotomy occurs when the tail is grabbed with sufficient force. Some animals, such as certain geckos, can perform true autotomy and cast off a tail under extreme stress.
- Some lizards return to their jettisoned tails and eat them. However, the attackers, having missed out on dinner, will often snack on these discarded tails after the dust settles.
- Autotomy is not unique to reptiles and amphibians. The harvesting of stone crabs in Florida is accomplished by removing one or both of a crab's claws and then returning the animal to the ocean, where it often regrows the lost limbs.