More Three Legged Lizards

Having four legs is overrated

A year ago, I reported on the surprisingly high incidence of limb loss in brown anoles from Staniel Cay, Bahamas. By the end of that trip, we found five lizards missing a part of their limb, usually the forelimb (see pictures in the previous post) out of 500 we examined (1%). We attributed this limb devastation to predators, but didn’t know what the cause was.

This year in Abaco, we’ve examined close to 400 lizards now, and have only found one case of leg loss. However, it’s an interesting one: most of a hindleg is gone. Yet, the lizard lives–the wound is healed over, so this lizard seems to be doing just fine.

About Jonathan Losos

Professor and Curator of Herpetology at the Museum of Comparative Zoology at Harvard University. I've spent my entire professional career studying anoles and have discovered that the more I learn about anoles, the more I realize I don't know.

7 thoughts on “More Three Legged Lizards

  1. An alternative hypothesis for leg loss may be mating. In my captive colony I regularly find both males and females missing limb extremities. Off the top of my head, I think that this has been most common in A. cybotes, but limb loss is A. sagrei has also occurred.

  2. We’ve never seen loss of limbs in our captive colony of A. distichus. Sometimes they beat each other up, but I’m not even sure they’re capable of taking a limb.

    1. Rich, we have had lizards in the captive colony with missing limbs, I just can’t say if they lost their limbs in the wild or in their cages. I particularly remember two females in Julienne’s breeding colony that I affectionately dubbed “Peg-leg” and “Tripod.” Peg-leg was missing a portion of a front limb and Tripod was completely missing one of her front limbs. Neither lizard appeared to suffer very much from her disability. They never appeared skinnier than the other lizards in their breeding cages, and they moved around the cages rather easily.

  3. Hmmm, it’s interesting to me that the density at the distal portion of the severed bone is greater than elsewhere along the leg. When a limb is broken or partially severed, is there more calcium deposition at the tip as part of the healing process?

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