Flip, flop and fly: modulated motor control and highly variable movement patterns of autotomized gecko tails

Timothy E. Higham, Anthony P. Russell


Many animals lose and regenerate appendages, and tail autotomy in lizards is an extremely well-studied example of this. Whereas the energetic, ecological and functional ramifications of tail loss for many lizards have been extensively documented, little is known about the behaviour and neuromuscular control of the autotomized tail. We used electromyography and high-speed video to quantify the motor control and movement patterns of autotomized tails of leopard geckos (Eublepharis macularius). In addition to rhythmic swinging, we show that they exhibit extremely complex movement patterns for up to 30 min following autotomy, including acrobatic flips up to 3 cm in height. Unlike the output of most central pattern generators (CPGs), muscular control of the tail is variable and can be arrhythmic. We suggest that the gecko tail is well suited for studies involving CPGs, given that this spinal preparation is naturally occurring, requires no surgery and exhibits complex modulation.


    • Received July 15, 2009.
    • Accepted August 17, 2009.
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