If you've ever tried capturing a lizard, you'll know how difficult it is. But if you do manage to corner one, many have the ultimate emergency quick release system for escape. They simply drop their tails, leaving the twitching body part to distract the predator as they scamper to safety. According to Gary Gillis from Mount Holyoke College, USA, up to 50% of some lizard populations seem to have traded some part of their tails in exchange for escape. This made Gillis wonder how this loss may impact on a lizard's mobility and ability to survive. Specifically how do branch hopping, tree dwelling lizards cope with their loss. Teaming up with undergraduate student Lauren Bonvini, the pair began encouraging lizard leaps to see how well the reptiles coped without their tails and publish their results on 13th February 2009 in The Journal of Experimental Biology at http://jeb.biologists.org/.
Constructing a jumping arena from boxes and fine sandpaper, the duo gently encouraged arboreal Anolis carolinensis (anole) lizards to launch themselves from a 11cm high platform as they filmed the animals' jumps. The animals performed well, launching themselves by pushing off with their back feet and landing gracefully, covering distances ranging from 14.9-29.9 cm.
But how well would the animals perform without their tails? Encouraging the lizards to drop their tails by holding them, just like a hungry predator would, Bonvini then persuaded the tailless reptiles to jump while Gillis filmed them. As soon as the first animal took to the air, Gillis knew something was different. 'It looked weird' says Gillis, 'the animals became blurred as they jumped. I called Lauren over and said "you're not going to believe this"'. Replaying the animal's jump in slow motion, the team could see that the animals were tumbling backwards uncontrollably as their tail stump flailed around. Filming other tailless anoles, three more backfli
|Contact: Kathryn Knight|
The Company of Biologists