Unique structural features facilitate lizard tail autotomy

PLoS One. 2012;7(12):e51803. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0051803. Epub 2012 Dec 19.


Autotomy refers to the voluntary shedding of a body part; a renowned example is tail loss among lizards as a response to attempted predation. Although many aspects of lizard tail autotomy have been studied, the detailed morphology and mechanism remains unclear. In the present study, we showed that tail shedding by the Tokay gecko (Gekko gecko) and the associated extracellular matrix (ECM) rupture were independent of proteolysis. Instead, lizard caudal autotomy relied on biological adhesion facilitated by surface microstructures. Results based on bio-imaging techniques demonstrated that the tail of Gekko gecko was pre-severed at distinct sites and that its structural integrity depended on the adhesion between these segments.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Biological*
  • Animals
  • Lizards / anatomy & histology
  • Lizards / physiology*
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Microscopy, Electron, Scanning
  • Peptide Hydrolases / metabolism
  • Regeneration / physiology*
  • Self Mutilation*
  • Spectrometry, Mass, Matrix-Assisted Laser Desorption-Ionization
  • Tail / anatomy & histology
  • Tail / physiology*


  • Peptide Hydrolases

Grant support

This work is supported by the Danish Council for Strategic Research (http://en.fi.dk/councils-commissions/the-danish-council-for-strategic-research), Programme Commission on Health, Food and Welfare (grant 09-067076, NOVENIA), and by the Danish National Research Foundation (http://www.dg.dk/en/), Centers of Excellence (inSPIN). The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.