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Tail dropping in tegu

Like most lizards, tegus can in fact drop their tails. The good news is, they can also regenerate it. Tail dropping usually occurs as a result of injury, diseases such as tail rot, or stress.

In the wild, lizards will drop their tail when they feel threatened, this is a natural response to being in the presence of a potential predator: if a bird grabs a lizard by their tail, they can just drop it in order to escape with the rest of their body intact. They then proceed to regenerate a new tail which however may not be as long and healthy as the original.

Tegu tail regrowth
Partial tail regrowth on a black and white tegu. The new tail has been growing for just over one month and lacks the color pattern of the original.

Tegu tail drop causes and prevention

There are a few potential reasons a tegu may lose their tail:

  • Tail injury (laceration)
  • Tail rot (infection)
  • Stress and underlying health issues
  • Feeling threatened or being grabbed by a potential predator

To minimize the risk of your tegu losing their tail, it’s important to provide a large and clean environment where they can feel safe. The enclosure must be large enough that they can wander around and burrow, and it needs to provide hides where they can retreat, and enough humidity to allow for shedding. Make sure not to accidentally hurt the tegu when closing the door of its cage, replace water daily, wash the enclosure with antibacterial soap and wipe the insides with disinfectant (can also use vinegar). Never grab your tegu by the tail when handling it.

Tegu tail rot

Tail rot is a condition which occurs for a number of reasons and is easily noticeable by a sudden discoloration or change in color of the tail. The affected area will also feel dry and brittle to the touch and generally look unhealthy compared to the rest of the body. Possible causes are physical injuries, shedding issues, infections, or other underlying health conditions due to a weakened immune system, poor husbandry or unhealthy diet. If your tegu is showing signs of tail rot, take it to a vet immediately. In some cases it may be necessary to amputate the tail, which will prevent the disease from getting worse altogether.

Tegu tail regeneration

Once a tegu loses its tail they may feel lethargic and be less active, because they are focusing all their energy on growing a new tail. It is especially important during this time to keep their environment clean and accurately disinfected, because the open wound is prone to infection. When a tegu regrows their tail, they do not regenerate bones and vertebrae, but replace them with cartilage. The new tail will look less colorful and be shorter in size, and in general may not look as nice as the previous tail.

Multiple tails

In rare cases a tegu may grow multiple tails at once. This usually occurs when the original tail gets partly lacerated but does not drop entirely, so the body is triggered to grow a second tail without actually having lost the first one. One freaky case of a wild black and white tegu with not one, not two, but six tails was once observed in Argentina:

Black and white tegu with six tails found in Argentina
Six-tailed blak and white tegu. Photo courtesy of Nicolás Pelegrin.

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