Leopard geckos are well known for their ability to drop their tails. But why do they do this? And how does it work?
Leopard geckos drop their tails as a defense mechanism. The dropped tail distracts predators so they can run away. Leopard geckos may also drop their tail when stressed, stuck, or even sick. Bacterial and fungal infections can cause tail drop.
What is tail dropping and why do leopard geckos do it?
Tail dropping is the act of a gecko detaching its tail from the base. This usually happens when your gecko is sick, stressed, scared, or facing a predator.
Tail drop can even happen when you grab your reptile’s tail and startle it.
However, your leopard gecko can also drop its tail when it’s stuck. For instance, if your gecko’s tail gets stuck in a door, it may choose to drop it so that it can quickly get free.
Unlike tail loss, tail dropping is voluntary. However, once your Leo’s tail is detached, it always behaves the same way – it twitches and bleeds. But the blood loss is minimal.
This is because the blood vessels in your gecko’s tail usually constrict when it drops.
Leopard gecko tails have particular connective tissue at their bases, making it easy for them to detach.
Keep in mind though – a regrown tail won’t look exactly like the original tail. They are usually shorter, blunter at the end, and have different colors.
Tail dropping can stress your Leo and even negatively impact its health.
Interestingly though, tail dropping isn’t something that only Leos do – other animals also drop parts of their bodies as a defense mechanism. There’s even a name for it – autonomy.
How frequently do leopard geckos drop their tails?
Since leopard geckos only drop their tails when something is wrong, it’s not a common occurrence.
If it happens regularly, it’s a sign that you need to remove stressors from your gecko’s environment. This could mean that you separate it from its tankmates, reset its tank, or even avoid handling it.
How many times can a leopard gecko lose its tail?
While some Leos can only lose and regrow their tails twice in their lifetimes, others can do it a few more times.
There’s no set limit for how many times your gecko can do this. One thing’s for sure, though – these reptiles can lose their ability to regrow their tails as they get older.
As such, an old gecko is more likely to end up tailless after tail dropping than a young one.
Another thing that affects your gecko’s ability to regrow its tail is how it lost it.
While dropped tails are easy to regrow, those that a predator cut off can be tricky. Being severely amputated by a predator can leave your gecko tailless for the rest of its life.
Is it painful for your leopard gecko to drop its tail?
Leopard geckos don’t feel any pain when they drop their tails. However, the process is stressful for them.
Will your leopard gecko eat its dropped tail?
While some leopard geckos will eat their dropped tails, others won’t. Ultimately, there’s no harm in doing this.
It can help a gecko regain some energy after the stressful experience of losing a tail. After all, leopard geckos store their fat reservoirs in their tails and can live off it for months.
Some geckos will return to where they dropped their tails to look for and eat them. Some gecko owners have even begun feeding their reptiles their tails after noticing this.
How long do leopard geckos take to regrow their tails?
From the time a leopard gecko loses its tail, it takes 30 days for the wound to heal and then at least 30 days for another tail to grow.
The time between losing its tail to growing a new one takes at least 60 days.
This time can stretch out to one year, though. However, leopard geckos usually heal and grow new tails faster than other reptiles.
How to help your leopard gecko to regrow a new tail
When your gecko’s tail falls off, you should do the following to help it regrow a new one :
- Give the gecko some time to reorient itself before separating it from any tankmates and housing it alone. Ensure that you use paper towels or something similar instead of a loose substrate in the new tank – the former can get into your reptile’s body through the wound site.
- Figure out what caused the tail loss and ensure it can’t cause future harm to your gecko.
- Clean your gecko’s wound using a wet rag – rub the area until every piece of debris is out.
- Apply an antiseptic to your gecko’s wound. This will prevent bacterial and fungal infections.
- Ensure tank temperatures, lighting, and humidity levels are optimal
- Provide water and suitable feeder insects like crickets and mealworms to help your reptile regain its strength. Increase the number of insects you usually offer but ensure you remove any leftovers within 15 minutes of feeding to keep them from nibbling on your Leo’s wound.
- Continue to limit your handling frequency.
- Look out for any signs of infection. These include redness, swelling, and discharge. If you notice any of these, take your gecko to the vet immediately.
How can you keep your leopard gecko from losing or dropping its tail?
To prevent your gecko from dropping its tail or losing its tail in a scuffle, you should:
- Reduce handling duration – this can keep you from startling your pet into dropping its tail. Also, it keeps you from accidentally pulling off your reptile’s tail.
- Avoid holding your gecko too tightly or by the tail. This can signal danger to them, especially if you pinch their tail.
- House your leopard gecko alone – housing it with other animals can lead to aggression in the group, even if all the animals are of the same species. This can easily result in fights that can cause tail loss
- Maintain optimum temperatures, lighting, and humidity levels. This will keep your gecko stress-free.
Coincidently, stress can also caus tail wagging in leopard geckos.
When it comes down to it, leopard geckos only drop their tails when they’re under some form of duress.
This action is meant to keep them safe when things are tough. So if you see your gecko drop its tail, take extra care of it – it will need the extra support to heal and regrow a new one.