Some species of geckos have an interesting defense mechanism where they will drop their tail if they feel threatened or if their tail is grabbed by a predator. The dropped tail will actually wiggle and twitch on the ground as though it were still attached to the body of the gecko. This tail loss and movement distracts the predator and allows the gecko to get away while the predator is left with just a tail.
Many gecko owners experience this kind of tail loss when they try to grab their gecko by the tail or if they are holding their gecko too tightly when it's trying to escape.
Why Else Does a Gecko Drop Their Tail?
Being grabbed or threatened aren't the only reasons a gecko might drop their tail. Tail loss can happen for a number of reasons and tends to be more common in younger geckos. Some reasons for a tail to be dropped are:
- Tail being grabbed
- Being bullied by other geckos sharing a tank
Gecko Tail Loss Mechanism
This tail dropping type of defense is called autotomy (many other animals also exhibit this type of defense mechanism) and if it happens to your gecko it is important to not panic. The tails are designed to do this and have special connective tissue inside them that creates a location where the tail breaks off readily. If a gecko drops their tail, the blood vessels to the tail will constrict and very little blood loss occurs.
This is an easy way to tell if your gecko dropped his tail or if he lost it due to trauma -- little blood will be found if he dropped it himself.
Eventually, the gecko will grow a new tail though it is likely to have a different appearance than the original tail. The new tail is usually shorter than the original one, colored differently, and more blunt at the end but it can vary from species to species and depending on how long the regrown tail has been present.
What Should You Do if Your Gecko Drops Their Tail?
Usually, geckos deal with tail loss well but there are a few things that you can do to ensure the whole process of tail loss and regrowing a new tail goes smoothly:
- Use paper towels for substrate after your gecko drops their tail. Loose substrates (bedding) can get into the wound from where the tail was attached and lead to infections. Switching the substrate to paper towels at least until the tail is regrown can help keep the tail clean. Change the paper towels often to continue to keep things clean.
- Isolate a gecko with tail loss from other geckos. Other geckos may bully a gecko that has dropped their tail even if they always live with them.
- Watch the tail stump for signs of infection and consult your exotics vet if there is any swelling, redness, or discharge at the site of the tail loss.
- Evaluate your environmental temperatures and humidity to make sure the enclosure in which your gecko lives is ideal. Tail loss and regrowth is stressful to your gecko and you want to make sure conditions are ideal and not contributing to their stress. Additionally, an improper environment can be a source of stress that could contribute to tail loss in the first place.
- Make sure your gecko is eating well. You can increase up the amount of food you normally feed since the tail loss is stressful and your gecko will deplete their fat storage. However, make sure crickets (or other prey items) not eaten within 15 minutes are removed from the tank otherwise the prey may try to nibble on your gecko's tail site.
Your gecko should be just fine without much intervention from you. You typically don't have to do anything other than keep the environment clean when your gecko drops his tail.
Edited by Adrienne Kruzer, RVT