Brittany has lived on the Big Island of Hawaii for most of her life and enjoys writing meaningful content that is helpful to others.
Have you ever seen a gecko without a tail and wondered why? Lizards and other reptiles can lose their tails at will and have the ability to regenerate missing tail portions or grow new ones altogether. But why do lizards lose their tails in the first place? And how are they able to grow back? We will explore the reasons behind this method of self-defense and also watch the creation of a new limb.
What Is the Benefit of Reptile Tail Regeneration?
Much like octopuses and starfish, lizards have evolved over time the ability to use their limb regeneration for self-defense. When attacked by a predator, lizards sometimes detach their tail to distract a predator. After the tail falls off, it will continue to wiggle.
If the lizard is lucky, the predator will not be able to differentiate between the lizard and its wiggling tail. By providing a convincing scapegoat to distract the predator, the lizard may be able to escape the situation (relatively) unharmed.
As the lizard quickly scurries away, the predator may shift its attention toward the detached tail, which, although wriggling, remains in the same place.
Lizards have evolved to be able to detach their tails at will. Unfortunately, sometimes the tails do not fully separate. In these cases, the lizard must live with a partially detached tail while its cells begin to regenerate.
Geckos Growing Back Their Tails
How Do Tails Regenerate?
Like many animals that can regenerate their limbs, geckos and lizards can easily detach their tails because their blood cells, bones, nerve cells, and skin can be separated at any place along the limb.
The lizard can always regrow a tail, but they are not in good health after losing it. Lizards store fat and nutrients in the tail. When they detach their tails, they lose that fat and also use up critical energy to find more food to replace the nutrients lost. Not only does losing a tail cause the gecko to lose and use a significant amount of energy, but growing back the tail takes almost twice that amount of energy.
How You Can Help
If your pet lizard has lost its tail, you should soak its nub in warm water during the day and frequently clean it out. Betadine (an iodine-based antiseptic) is also a good way to clean the wound of a lizard's lost tail. After one week of soaking the nub, you may take the lizard out. At night, put triple antibiotic oil on the wound to ensure proper healing.
If your lizard's stump begins to swell up, you will need to take it to an experienced reptile veterinarian.
How Long Will It Take to Regenerate?
As mentioned before, lizards have the ability to regenerate their tails. It takes about nine weeks for a lizard to grow their tail back.
When the tail grows back, it regenerates from the inside out. For the first three weeks, the lizard's tail is a dark stump of lymph vessels. After six weeks, the whole shape of the tail has been regenerated. After the tail has been growing back for six weeks, the lizard's skin begins to form over the lymph vessels.
Watch the video below to see it in action!
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.
Kelly Bortner on May 14, 2020:
I bought a anole that lost much of it's tail and the new growth is blackish. Like the Day gecko above. I can not catch her without so much stress. Is it normal for the tip to be black with regrowth. The petstore never mentioned that she needed treatment at a vet for it. I have a male I bought with a broken tail( I take the ones, no one else would) It also was blackish growing back and is fine now. The reason I ask is because someone in a FB group stated it was gangrene. I haven't even had her a week and the tip is getting longer( still black) but not progressing up at the healthy tail part.
Rachel on January 15, 2020:
thank you so much brittany for letting me have this opportunity in this info
Hall on September 20, 2019:
I wish there was more information about the regrowing of the tail.
. on January 22, 2019:
the page was good but I would have liked more about the tail growing from inside-out
jake on October 16, 2018:
bad why did you write this
Artur Mijimiro on May 21, 2013:
this article was extremely helpful, thank you very much
Brittany Kennedy (author) from Kailua-Kona, Hawaii on April 24, 2012:
Obljimi, a lizard has a very different biology than a human. Lizards can regenerate body parts that do not have any vital organs in them--only lymph vessels and skin. Human's cannot regenerate and do not have the same biological composition. I hope this helps.
Obijimi timileyin on April 24, 2012:
What do lizard possess that human don't have or human also regenerates
Brittany Kennedy (author) from Kailua-Kona, Hawaii on March 29, 2012:
Thank you everyone for your comments! I saw the question and thought, "Oo! I know this one!" Haha. I'm glad you all enjoyed it. Thanks again!
James Kenny from Birmingham, England on March 23, 2012:
I've always been fascinated by the ability of a Lizard to grow its tail back, it's a concept so alien to us humans, and indeed all mammals. You've written a really good article here. Thanks for sharing. Voted up.
Daisy Mariposa from Orange County (Southern California) on March 22, 2012:
Thanks for publishing this very interesting article. I knew that a lizard could regenerate a tail, but that's all I knew about the subject. I learned a lot from reading your Hub.
Robin Edmondson from San Francisco on March 20, 2012:
That is fascinating. I knew that if a lizard's tail was accidentally cut off, perhaps run over by a human, that it could regenerate it, but I didn't know that they could lose their tail at their own will. They are such adaptive creatures.
Linda Bilyeu from Orlando, FL on March 20, 2012:
I had no idea why or how the lizard lost it's tail! I've witnessed this so many times and never thought about researching! I always thought I was the one who detached it's tail! I feel so much better now. I was also fascinated at how the tail would keep wiggling. Lizards are slick plus they move fast! My dog likes to attack them. I feel bad for them. I'm taking a break from yard work right now. When I go back outside I'm going to say "atta boy" to every lizard I see. BTW...I'm not a fanof lizards, but I am a fan of this hub!
sam209 on March 20, 2012:
This is the first hub I've read today and I must say that it's very interesting! I'm usually watching Animal Planet in order to get good information like this! Nice piece! Thanks for educating me today!
Brittany Kennedy (author) from Kailua-Kona, Hawaii on March 20, 2012:
Thank you so much, Kris!
Kris Heeter from Indiana on March 20, 2012:
Very cool hub! Regeneration of a fascinating event and so very few animals have the ability to do it.