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Keywords:

  • animal welfare;
  • caudal autotomy;
  • Cyclodomorphus praealtus;
  • generalized additive model;
  • skink

Abstract

Caudal autotomy (tail loss) during capture and handling is widely reported among several families of lizards. Autotomy causes elevated stress levels in lizards, and imposes a significant fitness cost on autotomized individuals. Despite these detrimental impacts, conservation and ethical issues associated with handling-related tail loss have received little attention. We assessed the incidence and correlates of tail autotomy during capture and handling in an endangered skink, the alpine she-oak skink Cyclodomorphus praealtus. A significant proportion (9.3%) of lizards autotomized their tails during capture and handling. Medium-sized lizards were more likely to lose their tails during handling, and this effect was exacerbated at intermediate body temperatures. Probability of autotomy had a complex relationship with cumulative observer experience, independent of other risk factors. Based on the modelled relationship of autotomy with body temperature, we propose that alpine she-oak skinks be cooled immediately after capture to reduce rates of autotomy during subsequent handling.