Lizard and Skink Tail Growth After Loss

Over the years, I’ve been fortunate enough to spend many summers photographing reptiles in Arkansas and Oklahoma. In particular, I’ve become fascinated by documenting lizards and skinks that have regenerated their tails after injury or predation attempts. This incredible ability to regrow a lost tail has evolved in many lizard and skink species as an effective survival adaptation. By studying numerous individuals over multiple seasons at sites like the Sequoyah National Wildlife Refuge in Oklahoma, I’ve been able to capture remarkable photos of different stages of the tail regrowth process.

Five-lined Skink's Tail Regrowth
Five-lined Skink’s Tail Regrowth

As some of you may know, many lizard and skink species have evolved the ability to autotomize, or self-amputate, their tails. When grabbed by a predator, the tail will actually detach from the body so that the lizard or skink can make its escape. But these resourceful reptiles don’t just lose their tails forever – they can regenerate or regrow them!

Lizard Growing New Tail
Lizard Growing New Tail

Just days after losing their tails, small nubs are already visible on the lizards’ behinds. Over the next few weeks, these nubs extend into pointy, elongated new tails, covered in smooth skin instead of scales. It may take a couple months for the new tail to reach full length again.

So how did lizards and skinks come to develop this ingenious trick?

A detached tail continues to wriggle vigorously after separation, distracting the predator while the lizard or skink scurries away. Some lizards will even detach their tails when grabbed by the tip – they can afford to lose a small portion of their tails while ensuring their ultimate survival. Having a detachable tail gives lizards and skinks a better chance of living another day to breed and pass on their genes.
Prairie Lizard On Utility Pole
Prairie Lizard Growing New Tail

The regenerated tail often looks slightly different than the original – it tends to be stiffer, shorter, and may be a different color. But despite these small differences, it serves its purpose well in providing balance and remaining a handy predator distraction device.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this insider’s look at lizard and skink tails.

Steve Creek, Wildlife Photographer

Here is an old blog post I wrote about a Lizard Growing New Tail

Image Information: First Image

  • Date: 5/26/23
  • Time: 8:55 AM
  • Camera: Canon EOS R5
  • Lens: Canon RF 100-500 mm F4.5-7.1 L IS USM
  • ISO: 500
  • Aperture: 8
  • Shutter: 1/800
  • Exp. Comp.: +0.7
  • Program: Manual

Note: Someone asked a great question: How many times can they grow their tails? Here is what I discovered:

The exact number of times a lizard can regrow its tail varies depending on the species and individual lizard, but they can typically regrow their tails multiple times.
In some cases, lizards may even regrow more than one tail, a phenomenon known as “abnormal regeneration”. Researchers have compiled reports of lizards growing back two, three, or even more tails, with multiple small tail “branches” emerging from the original site of tail loss.
The process of tail regeneration in lizards typically takes about nine weeks. However, the regenerated tails are often not as long as the original tails, especially in juveniles, and may not have the same structure and function as the original tail.

4 thoughts on “Lizard and Skink Tail Growth After Loss”

  1. Now I need to know if this is a one hit wonder or if they can grow a third or forth. I always know this was a possibility, but never gave it much thought before

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