When one tail isn't enough: abnormal caudal regeneration in lepidosaurs and its potential ecological impacts

James I. Barr, Ruchira Somaweera, Stephanie S. Godfrey, Michael G. Gardner, Philip W. Bateman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Citations (Scopus)


Abnormal caudal regeneration, the production of additional tails through regeneration events, occurs in lepidosaurs as a result of incomplete autotomy or sufficient caudal wound. Despite being widely known to occur, documented events generally are limited to opportunistic single observations – hindering the understanding of the ecological importance of caudal regeneration. Here we compiled and reviewed a robust global database of both peer-reviewed and non-peer reviewed records of abnormal regeneration events in lepidosaurs published over the last 400 years. Using this database, we qualitatively and quantitatively assessed the occurrence and characteristics of abnormal tail regeneration among individuals, among species, and among populations. We identified 425 observations from 366 records pertaining to 175 species of lepidosaurs across 22 families from 63 different countries. At an individual level, regenerations ranged from bifurcations to hexafurcations; from normal regeneration from the original tail to multiple regenerations arising from a single point; and from growth from the distal third to the proximal third of the tail. Species showing abnormal regenerations included those with intra-vertebral, inter-vertebral or no autotomy planes, indicating that abnormal regenerations evidently occur across lepidosaurs regardless of whether the species demonstrates caudal autotomy or not. Within populations, abnormal regenerations were estimated at a mean ± SD of 2.75 ± 3.41% (range 0.1–16.7%). There is a significant lack of experimental studies to understand the potential ecological impacts of regeneration on the fitness and life history of individuals and populations. We hypothesised that abnormal regeneration may affect lepidosaurs via influencing kinematics of locomotion, restrictions in escape mechanisms, anti-predation tactics, and intra- and inter-specific signalling. Behaviourally testing these hypotheses would be an important future research direction.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1479-1496
Number of pages18
JournalBiological Reviews
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 1 Oct 2020


  • abnormal regeneration
  • autotomy
  • bifid
  • caudal
  • furcation
  • lizard
  • multifurcation
  • regeneration
  • tail


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