Short- and long-term effects of an extreme case of autotomy: does "tail" loss and subsequent constipation decrease the locomotor performance of male and female scorpions?

Integr Zool. 2022 Sep;17(5):672-688. doi: 10.1111/1749-4877.12604. Epub 2021 Dec 4.


In many taxa, individuals voluntarily detach a body part as a form to increase their chances of escaping predation. This defense mechanism, known as autotomy, has several consequences, such as changes in locomotor performance that may affect fitness. Scorpions of the genus Ananteris autotomize the "tail", which in fact corresponds to the last abdominal segments. After autotomy, individuals lose nearly 25% of their body mass and the last portion of the digestive tract, including the anus, which prevents defecation and leads to constipation, because regeneration does not occur. Here, we experimentally investigated the short- and long-term effects of tail loss on the locomotor performance of Ananteris balzani. In a short-term experiment, the maximum running speed (MRS) of males and females did not change after autotomy. Moreover, the relative mass of the lost tail did not affect the change in MRS after autotomy. In a long-term experiment, autotomy had a negative effect on the MRS of males, but not of females. Autotomized over-fed individuals suffered from severe constipation but were not slower than autotomized normally fed individuals. In conclusion, tail loss has no immediate effect on the locomotor performance of scorpions. The long-term decrease in the locomotor performance of autotomized males may impair mate searching. However, because death by constipation takes several months, males have a long time to find mates and reproduce. Thus, the prolonged period between autotomy and death by constipation is crucial for understanding the evolution of one of the most extreme cases of autotomy in nature.

Keywords: fitness costs; maximum running speed; sex differences; tail loss; weight loss.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Constipation
  • Female
  • Lizards*
  • Male
  • Predatory Behavior
  • Regeneration
  • Scorpions*
  • Tail