Sex, Reproductive Status, and Cost of Tail Autotomy via Decreased Running Speed in Lizards


William E. Cooper, Department of Biology, Indiana University Purdue University Fort Wayne, Fort Wayne, IN, 46805, USA.


Autotomy, voluntary shedding of body parts to permit escape, is a theoretically interesting defense because escape benefit is offset by numerous costs, including impaired future escape ability. Reduced sprint speed is a major escape cost in some lizards. We predicted that tail loss causes decreased speed in males and previtellogenic females, but not vitellogenic females already slowed by mass gain. In the striped plateau lizard, Sceloporus virgatus, adults of both sexes are subject to autotomy, and females undergo large increases in body condition (mass/length) during vitellogenesis. Time required for running 1 m was similar in intact autotomized males and previtellogenic females, but increased by nearly half after autotomy. Vitellogenic females were slower than other lizards when intact, but their speed was unaffected by autotomy. Following autotomy, speeds of all groups were similar. Thus, speed costs of autotomy vary with sex and reproductive condition: decreased running speed is not a cost of autotomy in vitellogenic females or presumably gravid females. Costs of autotomy are more complex than previously known. Speed and other costs might interact in unforseen ways, making it difficult to predict whether strategies to compensate for diminished escape ability differ with reproductive condition in females.