Tail Loss and Locomotor Performance

The long-tailed Asian lacertid lizard, Takydromus sexlineatus. Photo by John White.

Tail loss (aututomy) is one of the more amazing things done by lizards, but for for me it’s a frustrating reality of studying the physiology of sprinting because rough handling (by me when I was a beginning Ph.D. student and now in my lab by some undergrads) results in a lost tail and thus changed locomotor mechanics. But this frustration turned to fascination when I began studying locomotion in Takydromus sexlineatus. This species is pretty special as it holds the distinction of having the longest tail (relative to snout-vent length) of any lizard.

So I had to pull the tail off and measure how locomotion was changed. This then snowballed into studying the effect of autotomy in Anolis carolinensis and then a collaboration with Philip Bergmann to more broadly address how autotomy influences locomotor performance in lizards by using a meta-analysis of the published literature. We showed that longer tails result in a more drastic change in performance for all lizards studied except the two Takydromus species…so we are still left wondering what that huge tail does!

The result was a talk at the World Congress of Herpetology in Vancouver and a publication in Physiological and Biochemical Zoology as part of a special issue on Tail Loss in Lizards, organized by Tim Higham and Tony Russell.

Grass anoles have really really long tails too….I wonder how those tails are used? Convergence between Takydromus and Grass Anoles? E.N. Arnold did a lot of work on Takydromus and hypothesized that the tail aids in grass-swimming. I have observed this species stand up bipedally and use the tail as a prop (like Varanus). Thoughts?

2 thoughts on “Tail Loss and Locomotor Performance

  1. What about a role in distributing weight out over thin twigs and grass stems? Some pygopodids have ridiculously long tails and they zoom about in low bushes and over spinifex clumps

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