Reptiles and Amphibians Q&A 24
|This question was provided by Manson Publishing as part of the OVAL Project. See more Reptiles and Amphibians Q&A.|
You are presented with an insectivorous skink for routine examination. You reach into the terrarium in which the skink is housed and carefully lift it out. As you are holding the skink gently and just about to transfer the beloved pet to the examination table, its tail suddenly breaks off and it falls to the floor of the cage and wriggles continuously for the next 10 minutes as its horrified owner gazes back and forth from the now-shed tail to you, becoming ever more doleful and dispirited.
|Now that your self-confidence and ‘bedside manner’ have been utterly shattered, what should you do?||
Once the tail has autotomised fully, there is no treatment that will restore its viability because the blood supply to the appendage is irreparably disrupted.
The blood vessels serving the tail go into immediate spasm which prevents substantial blood loss or traumatic shock.
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|What should you tell the now-angry owner of the skink with the unexpectedly truncated tail?||
Many lizards (and a very few snakes) have ‘break points’ in their caudal vertebrae which permit the tail to be voluntarily shed when the lizard (or snake) perceives that it is in danger of predation or capture.
Even very mild manual restraint (or even the threat of restraint) often results in a lizard autotomising its tail.
The tail usually begins to regenerate within a few months and, after a year or two, the regrown tail is almost as long and thick as the original – although its scale pattern and colour may not quite match the former appearance.
(Spontaneous caudal autotomy usually elicits equal consternation by both the pet’s owner and the handler who was responsible for the tail loss. To the former, a previously perfect pet or specimen has now acquired a major blemish; to the latter, the occurrence has been a shocking demonstration of the vagaries of exotic animal practice!)
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