Inter-populational variation in the cost of autotomy in the metallic skink (Niveoscincus metallicus)


* All correspondence to current address: David Chapple, School of Botany and Zoology, Australian National University, Canberra ACT 0200, Australia. E-mail:


Many species of lizard use tail autotomy to escape from potential predators. While frequency of tail loss is an unreliable indicator of predation intensity it may enable inter-populational comparisons of predation costs. This reasoning was applied to a study of the metallic skink Niveoscincus metallicus. A total of 368 lizards was sampled from across four populations to compare the frequency and position of tail loss and ultimately to examine whether the implications of tail autotomy differ between populations. The overall frequency of tail loss was 72%, although between populations the incidence of tail autotomy varied from 61.4% (Laughing Jack Lagoon) to 78.2% (Dynnyrne). No sexual differences were observed in the frequency of tail loss; however, the incidence of autotomy increased with age. The estimated position of tail loss did not vary between the sexes, although individuals from Dynnyrne experienced more proximal tail breaks than the other populations. This resulted in the predicted energetic cost of tail loss being significantly higher in the Dynnyrne population and, when combined with a high frequency of tail loss and relatively smaller body size, suggests that this population incurs relatively high costs as a result of autotomy. Overall, measures of tail loss in N. metallicus were found to be useful for examining inter-populational variation in the cost of tail autotomy.