4 Reptiles That Regrow Limbs (And 2 Amphibians)

Reptiles That Regrow Limbs

Re-growing a limb sounds like something out of a science-fiction movie. Imagine if humans could regrow limbs. It would be an amazing way to greatly improve the quality of life for many people. Unfortunately, as mammals, we don’t possess the biological qualities to regrow limbs. Amazingly, some reptiles do.

In this article, we’ll talk about all the reptiles that can regrow limbs.

There aren’t any reptiles that can truly regrow limbs, however, many reptiles like geckos, iguanas, and bearded dragons can drop and regrow their tails, and even alligators can regrow their tail. Amphibians like salamanders and axolotls are the main group of animals that are also able to regrow limbs.

In this article, we’ll cover everything you need to know about reptiles re-growing their limbs. Even though there is only one group of reptiles, that can regenerate limbs, there is a lot to discuss on the subject.

We’ll also include reptiles that can regrow their tails and amphibians that can regenerate limbs.  But first, I’d like to discuss how and why reptiles are even able to do this in the first place.

Why Do Reptiles Regrow Limbs?

Why have reptiles evolved to replace tails?

Limbs and tails are incredibly useful, but can also be a hazard when running away from a predator. A tail especially is something that a predator can easily grab onto.

Some reptiles are able to drop their tails when they’re extremely stressed. This is a biological response and is out of the control of the reptile, just like when their tails change colors. Essentially, the tail separates from the body of the reptile. Creepily, the tail continues to move after it’s dropped from the reptile’s body.

Even though this sounds dramatic, and allows the reptile to escape the jaws of the predator that captured them. Reptiles that can regrow limbs may have lost them to a predator or an accident. Re-growing a tail is very important for small arboreal reptiles so that they can climb up high into the canopy to hunt and escape predation.

How Do Reptiles Regrow Limbs?

After a reptile drops a tail the regeneration process can begin. Limb regeneration is very stressful and taxing on an animal. It takes a lot of energy to complete. Without getting too technical, this is how limb regeneration works according to a scientific study.

A blastema forms around the stump of a lizard’s regenerated body part. The cartilage tube surrounds the spinal cord and undergoes hypertrophy then becomes bony. Tail and limb regeneration is an inside-out process and takes weeks. Even after a tail or limb lamb is fully re-grown it might still be small and deformed.

We’ll talk a little bit more in detail about how each reptile regenerates limbs because each one is a little bit different.

Reptiles That Regrow Limbs

We mentioned above that there aren’t any reptiles that can truly regrow limbs. That superpower resides only with amphibians as far as vertebrates are concerned.

For invertebrates re-growing limbs is commonplace. Most invertebrates are able to regrow and replace multiple limbs throughout their lives. If we’re talking about reptiles regenerating tissue, it usually will be a tail that’s regenerated.

Even though tails aren’t considered limbs unless they’re prehensile, we’re going to specify all of the reptiles that can regrow their tails.

Reptiles That Regrow Tails

Many reptiles are able to regrow tails. Some of the exceptions to this rule are reptiles that have prehensile tails. Chameleons are a great example of a reptile that is not able to regrow its tail if it’s lost. Here are some of the most common reptiles that can drop and regrow their tails.

1. Alligators

It might surprise you that a reptile as large, as an alligator can regrow a limb or, maybe not a limb, but just a tail. Alligators are the largest species known to be able to regenerate a body part. 

It was found that young alligators are able to regrow tails up to 9 inches in length. The difference between these re-grown tales was astonishing. In the second version of an alligator’s tail, no skeletal muscle was present.

That’s probably because re-growing body parts are very expensive and taxing nutritionally. Creating new tissue might take away tissue from something else that’s already growing.

Remember that alligators are large vertebrates, so it’s shocking that they can’t even regrow this much of their body.

2. Skinks

Most groups of lizards are able to drop and regrow their tails. Skinks are one group of lizards that can drop their tail in an instant. In the wild, this tail-dropping can help them escape, and evade predators in a pinch.

Unfortunately, in captivity, skinks may drop their tails due to high stress and poor husbandry. Species like the prehensile-tailed skink and five-lined skink have been known to drop their tails when entering a new environment.

Amazingly, skink will regrow their tails. If you have a skink that has dropped its tail, make sure you give them extra nutritional support during the time that they are growing their tail. Remember that skinks are omnivores so you’ll have plenty of food choices to help nurse them back to help.

I’ll warn you that the video below is a bit graphic because you can see a blue-tailed skink drop its tail.  Even worse, you can see the tail wiggling long after its left its owner’s body.

3. Geckos

Geckos are probably the most common example of captive reptiles that are able to regrow tails. Although geckos can’t regrow limbs, they’re very adept at replacing dropped tails.

Leopard geckos often drop their tails in captivity due to stress and improper handling. Dropping a tail is very hard on the gecko’s health because they store a lot of fat and other tissue in their tail.

Leopard geckos seem to be able to regrow and replace their tails within about 30 days. Unfortunately, the new tail will never be the same as the old one because it lacks the muscle and nerve tissue that the original tail had.

For other species of gecko that are more arboreal than leopard geckos, tail regrowth is essential. Arboreal geckos use their tails to help them balance as they’re climbing.

4. Iguanas

Iguana tails are long, beautiful, and dangerous. If you’ve ever been around an iguana, you know that they can use their tails to whip you and scare you away.

Most of the time, iguanas break their tails off in the wild and in captivity when acting defensively. In the wild, iguanas’ tails break when captured by a predator. Captivity iguanas can drop their tails to get away from a stressful situation or bad handling.

Even though iguanas can’t regrow limbs, they can easily regenerate and replace tails. Just keep in mind that your iguana’s beautiful tail will never look the same as the regenerative one will be smaller and weaker.

Amphibians That Regrow Limbs

As far as vertebrates that can regrow limbs ago, amphibians are the real winners. These amazing Animals are able to completely regrow and replace lost limbs. Limbs are much more complicated and difficult to replace than tails.

Let’s talk about some of the best examples of amphibians that regrow limbs.

1. Salamanders

Salamanders are the kings and queens of limb regeneration. Salamanders cannot only regenerate limbs, but can also regenerate, tissues, organs, and other whole body parts.

The way that salamanders are able to do this is still a bit of a genetic mystery. But one thing for sure is that salamanders can regenerate limbs like no other vertebrates can.

2. Axolotls

Axolotls are a type of salamander that is the most regenerative of all amphibians.

Just like the title screen of the video below says, axolotls can regrow anything. According to research, axolotls are the only vertebrate that can regenerate body parts, regardless of where the wound is. Plus, to set it apart from reptile regeneration, axolotl regeneration creates a perfect genetic copy of whatever was there before.

Though regeneration capabilities, decline with age and are dependent on nerve stimulation, there are so many things that we can learn from axolotl limb regeneration. For so many reasons, this is a species that should be protected in both the wild and in captivity.

Frequently Asked Questions

Now that we’ve highlighted some of the coolest reptiles that regrow tails and amphibians that can regrow entire limbs, let’s answer a few frequently asked questions.

Can Lizards Regrow Any Limb?

As we mentioned above, no lizards are able to regrow limbs. The best a lizard can do is regrow a tail that’s lacking in muscle and nerves. This is still a feat that takes a lot of energy and is very impressive compared to what mammals can do.

Can Alligators Regenerate Limbs?

Alligators are able to regrow tails, but cannot regenerate limbs. Unfortunately, alligators, lose limbs often during fights and bouts of cannibalism. Though it would be incredibly handy for an alligator to be able to regrow a leg, it’s just not biologically possible.

Final Thoughts

Reptiles don’t have the ability to regrow limbs, but can regenerate tails pretty easily and in a matter of weeks, a reptile can regrow a tail that it dropped due to stress or predation.

Amphibians are the only vertebrates that are able to regenerate entire functional limbs. Hopefully, this article has fully satisfied your curiosity about limb regrowth and cleared up some of the questions you may have had.