Handling-related tail loss in an endangered skink: incidence, correlates and a possible solution


  • Editor: Lucinda Haines

Michael P. Scroggie, Department of Sustainability and Environment, Arthur Rylah Institute for Environmental Research, PO Box 137 (123 Brown St), Heidelberg, Vic. 3084, Australia.
Email: michael.scroggie@dse.vic.gov.au


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.