Jettisoning Ballast or Fuel? Caudal Autotomy and Locomotory Energetics of the Cape Dwarf Gecko Lygodactylus capensis (Gekkonidae)

P.A. Fleming, L. Verburgt, Michael Scantlebury, K. Medger, P.W. Bateman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

17 Citations (Scopus)


Many lizard species will shed their tail as a defensive response (e.g., to escape a putative predator or aggressive conspecific). This caudal autotomy incurs a number of costs as a result of loss of the tail itself, loss of resources (i.e., stored in the tail or due to the cost of regeneration), and altered behavior. Few studies have examined the metabolic costs of caudal autotomy. A previous study demonstrated that geckos can move faster after tail loss as a result of reduced weight or friction with the substrate; however, there are no data for the effects of caudal autotomy on locomotory energetics. We examined the effect of tail loss on locomotory costs in the Cape dwarf gecko Lygodactylus capensis (similar to 0.9 g) using a novel method for collecting data on small lizards, a method previously used for arthropods. We measured CO2 production during 5-10 min of exhaustive exercise (in response to stimulus) and during a 45-min recovery period. During exercise, we measured speed (for each meter moved) as well as total distance traveled. Contrary to our expectations, tailless geckos overall expended less effort in escape running, moving both slower and for a shorter distance, compared with when they were intact. Tailless geckos also exhibited lower excess CO2 production (CO2 production in excess of normal resting metabolic rate) during exercising. This may be due to reduced metabolically active tissue (tails represent 8.7% of their initial body mass). An alternative suggestion is that a change in energy substrate use may take place after tail loss. This is an intriguing finding that warrants future biochemical investigation before we can predict the relative costs of tail loss that lizards might experience under natural conditions.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)756-765
Number of pages10
JournalPhysiological and Biochemical Zoology
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2009

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Animal Science and Zoology
  • Biochemistry
  • Physiology

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