Monday, June 11, 2012

Losing your tail

One of the cats caught a lizard yesterday, and before I could intervene, the lizard had dropped its tail. While the tail wriggled in the dust, attracting the attention of the cat, the lizard made its getaway. That is how this defense system, called autotomy (auto: self; tomos: cut) is designed to work.

It's a neat trick. Yet losing a tail, even though it will regrow, is not without cost to the lizard. It takes a lot of energy and time -- as much as a year or more -- to grow a new body part. During that time the lizard's reproductive life comes to a halt: it will not mate or bear young. If the lizard is a juvenile when it loses its tail, it simply stops growing until the new tail has grown back. And the new tail is always less impressive than the original: it's smaller and may be a different color, with differently patterned scales. Regeneration is not a perfect science, as Frankenstein taught us.

Imagine if we were capable of autotomy. In a way, we are; often in life we must leave a part of ourselves behind in order to survive. While we may someday recover what we've lost, it's a difficult and painful process, and like the lizard, we are never really the same again.

I admit I felt a terrible pang when the lizard scrambled away, leaving its precious tail behind. I had a crazy impulse to seize the tail and run after the lizard, to somehow join the two together again. But that, of course, was impossible. Once you've said goodbye to your tail, there's no going back.

[Photo by Gary Nafis]


Monisima's Life in the Philippines said...

I didn't know there were consequences when lizards lose their tail. At least the lizard will have a new normal. Kind of like a lost love and a broken heart, then falling in love again:)

Tai said...

Unintended consequences -- the stuff tragedies (and comedies) are made of. I love the idea of a "new normal." That is a wonderful way to think of it.

The Querulous Squirrel said...

I could relate on so many complex levels cannot even articlulate. Involved in my sudden profound interest in Mothra.

Tai said...

As in Mothra vs. Godzilla? Is she on our side? I hope so! Wait, I just looked at your blog and see that I can learn everything I need to know there. Am reading now. xT