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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.


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.

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