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Geckos can ditch their tails along ‘dotted lines,’ experts say

Geckos can quickly separate the flesh on either side of their tail when they tenses the right muscles.
(Howard Maize / Woodland Hills)

Geckos can sever their tails along different points because they’re marked by “dotted lines,” a team of researchers has found.

When a predator pounces from behind, a lizard can voluntarily drop its tail and make a quick getaway while its attacker remains distracted by the amputated, still-wriggling appendage. But this evolutionary strategy comes with some disadvantages, too: For a lizard, a tail is a crucial balancing limb, a sign of social status and a store of fat reserves. (In fact, some species will return later to eat their own tail, probably to get that fat back, the authors write.)

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But tails don’t all drop in the same places – many species can sever at different points (perhaps to minimize tail loss). Using an MRI machine, an electron microscope and a host of other tools, a team of researchers from Denmark decided to study the tokay gecko tail in-depth to see if they could discover the lizards’ secret.

They found that there are chains of cells along what appear to be severing points in the tail – chains that could act as a “cellular zipper,” the authors write, quickly separating the flesh on either side when a lizard tenses the right muscles.

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The findings, released Wednesday by the journal PLoS ONE, could prove useful to engineers looking for ways to build solid structures with quickly detachable elements.

Follow me on Twitter @aminawrite.


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