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Gecko Tails

October 7, 2009

Severed gecko tails can perform surprisingly complex movements – and that may help scientists study spinal injuries.


Dancing lizard tails. I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

When a small lizard called the gecko is threatened, it sheds its tail and deploys it as a decoy. The severed tail keeps moving for several minutes to distract predators. Now, scientists have found that the lost tail doesn’t just twitch: It leaps, flips, and even changes direction when it bumps into things. University of Calgary zoologist Anthony Russell says that studying the disembodied tails’ wiring may shed light on human spinal cord injuries.

ANTHONY RUSSELL (University of Calgary):
There is often a situation where there is spontaneous muscular activity, which is taking place without any involvement of the higher brain centers, and possibly the spinal cord – and we understand very little about that.

Further research could someday make it possible to tap into the circuitry of those spasms, and restore some movement to paralyzed limbs. I’m Bob Hirshon for AAAS, the Science Society.