The first time I saw a Crested Gecko dropping its tail, I was trying to move a very skittish gecko from one enclosure into another. It was a difficult experience, especially because after the tail dropped, it continued to wiggle.
I worried about whether the gecko was going to be okay, if there was pain, and whether any medical attention was needed.
My conclusion after doing some research is that it may have been a more traumatic experience for me than my Crested Gecko! Keep reading – below we share important things to know about Crested Gecko tail drop.
- The scientific term for Crested Gecko tail drop is “autotomy”.
- Crested Geckos drop their tails when they feel threatened or scared. Self-amputation is common in many other species and is used to attract the attention of a predator, giving them a chance to escape.
- They most likely do not experience significant pain when their tail drops, however, their tails do not grow back.
- The loss of the tail does not affect their health or quality of life. They use their tail to wrap around branches, and it is useful but not mandatory for balance and maneuverability.
- Most Crested Geckos in the wild have been found to be tailless, leading some researchers to suggest that the natural state of adults is to be without a tail.
Crested Gecko Tail Drop Explained
Crested Geckos, along with many other lizards and some amphibians, have fracture points at the tail vertebrae. These fracture points enable them to drop (i.e. self-amputate) their tails without experiencing significant pain. You can imagine these fracture points as “perforations”, the same as you would find in paper towel rolls.
Autotomy happens either because of direct trauma or because of fear and stress.
Some common reasons for a Crested Gecko dropping their tail include:
- Being grabbed around their body, or handled in a rough way.
- Rescue or skittish Gecko being moved into a new enclosure.
- Caught in the cage door.
- A predator grabs it in the wild.
Crested Geckos can drop their tails in a matter of seconds. They often use tail loss to attract the attention of a predator.
A dropped tail can continue to wiggle for over 60 seconds, giving them a good opportunity to escape.
When no direct trauma is involved, the Gecko can constrict muscles around the blood vessels of the tail to prevent bleeding. Because of this mechanism, they will not bleed, and the wound will close up relatively quickly.
Since Crested Geckos in the wild are prey to many larger animals, tail loss has been found to happen frequently. In fact, it happens so frequently that most specimens observed in the wild are tailless.
In 2016 I adopted a new male Crested Gecko for my breeding program. He was gorgeous, but had most likely been raised in a rack system and probably had very little contact with people and very little handling.
I got him into his new enclosure by transferring him from his carry container directly into the cage. A few weeks later, I had to check him out and tried to pick him up.
He struggled and immediately dropped his tail.
There was no bleeding and he appeared to be more distressed by my handling, than by the tail drop.
The enclosure was heavily planted, so it was difficult to see where the tail ended up and to what extent it was twitching after it dropped.
Interestingly, shortly after I introduced him to his female breeding partner, I discovered that she also was missing her tail! This most likely happened due to the stress of mating.
What To Do
If your Crested Gecko drops its tail, the most important thing you can do is be careful not to add to their stress.
Vet Tip: You should observe your Crested Gecko closely for the first few hours to make sure there is no oozing of liquid or blood. Usually, they constrict blood to that area before loosing their tail to prevent bleeding, but if oozing is left unattended it could lead to infection.Dr. Ayaebi (DVM) – More Reptiles
I also recommend that you not try to pick up your Gecko, and don’t change or adjust their environment for a day or two. You can remove the tail from the cage if you would like to, but you will probably feel better if you wait until it’s stopped twitching.
It is very likely that your Crested Gecko will continue to move around the cage as if nothing has happened, though it may choose to hide for a while. It is unclear whether they are reacting more to the stress of having lost the tail, or the original stress that triggered the autotomy.
Pain has generally not been observed in geckos who have just performed autotomy. One sign of pain is sitting at the bottom of the cage with an arched back.
Will It Grow Back?
Unlike other species such as Leopard Geckos, a Crested Gecko’s tail will not grow back.
A Crested Gecko almost always drops their entire tail, right back to the vent area.
In many cases, they will develop a small (1/4”) pointed stub where the tail has been dropped (pictured below).
Whether or not this little stub develops, the back end of a tailless gecko is reminiscent of the back end of a frog. This is why tailless Crested Geckos are often called “frogbutts”!
Crested Geckos with no tails should not be considered “deformed” or “defective” since this is such a common situation. They are just as healthy, happy and interesting a pet as those Crested Geckos who keep their tails.
Other Common Tail Injuries
There are several types of injuries where the Crested Gecko will not actually drop its tail:
- Floppy Tail Syndrome
Floppy Tail Syndrome
Some Crested Geckos spend a lot of time clinging to the vertical walls of the enclosure with their head pointed downward. In some cases, the tail flops forward toward the head (pictured above left), instead of remaining up against the wall like the rest of the body (pictured above right).
The reasons for floppy tail syndrome in Crested Geckos are not known definitively.
- Lack of adequate calcium
- Spending too much time in the upside down position.
- Weak or thin bones in the pelvic area.
It is likely that the true cause of floppy tail is a combination of these factors and may be different with different pets.
Some keepers have chosen to set up an enclosure where it is difficult for their lizard to assume this head pointed downward position by having a number of vines and perches that restrict access to the vertical sides of the cage.
Others have advocated for removing the tail so this won’t happen.
In cases where the flopping tail appears to get in the way of their mobility, it may be best to remove it. If this is necessary, I highly recommend having a vet amputate the tail, as opposed to stressing the gecko out in order to make it drop its tail.
Author Tip: When I observe my Crested Geckos’ tail beginning to bend forward, I usually gently push it back against the side of the enclosure and often find that it will stay in that position.
Certain types of trauma may cause injury to a Crested Gecko’s tail, but don’t lead to tail dropping.
These types of trauma include:
- Bite from another gecko
- Constriction of blood flow because of poor shedding
Necrosis (i.e. cell death) or tail rot can happen because of infection.
The tail, usually at the end, appears to be shriveling up and begins to look brittle and dried out. This condition requires a visit to a reptile vet. In some cases of infection, the vet can prescribe antibiotics that will prevent the condition from spreading. Most of the time, however, the Crested Gecko will require a tail amputation.
Some Geckos develop kinks in their tail, where the tail bends up to 90 degrees from its original direction. This may occur at any part of the tail.
I have not seen kinks with any of my Crested Geckos.
Once again, as long as the kink doesn’t affect their ability to move around, nothing needs to be done. If it does affect their quality of life, a reptile vet can perform an amputation.