In May 2019, Amanda Kooser, a foreign correspondent, spotted a lizard on a rock while hiking through a shady area of the Manzanita Mountains in New Mexico. She had never seen a lizard like this: the little animal had three tails, like a small medieval weapon. And now a team of researchers at Curtin University in Australia has delved into the prevalence of multi-tailed lizards in the wild.
“We analyzed existing data on two-tailed lizards from more than 175 species in 22 sections in 63 different countries. Comparing these data with all comparable lizard populations, our results show that an average of 2.75 percent of lizards in the population may have two tails or more at any one time,” PhD student James Barr said in a statement released Tuesday at Curtin University.
Barr described the ratio as “quite surprisingly high.” Barr is the lead author of a study published in the Journal of Biology at the end of June that explored “abnormal tail regeneration.” Many lizards have the ability to “self-position” parts of their tails to avoid predators. Multiple tails are usually the result of lizards not completely losing their tails. It grows an extra tail.
The researchers were interested in how these extra tails affected lizards that had to drag them around. This is an open question, but those lizards may be at a disadvantage.
“It can affect a range of things, such as their kinetic movement, which can be limited when trying to escape predators, their anti-predator strategies, and socially, other lizards may react to them,” said co-author Bill Bateman, an associate professor at Curtin University.