Melissa Kaplan's
Herp Care Collection
Last updated January 1, 2014

Kinks and Bends in Tails

©2001 Melissa Kaplan


Kinks and bends in lizard tails may be congenital, appearing at birth/hatching or shortly thereafter, or may appear later as a result of some sort of change in the tail itself.


Congenital Bends and Kinks
Congenital kinks are not a problem. The position of the kink in the tail may appear to move up the tail as the tail grows, but what is really happening is that the tail is growing in length on either side of the kink. For example, my Cyclura iguana, Mikey, hatched with a slight bend in the end of his tail that bent it pointing up and slightly to the side. When I got him when he was 6 in. SVL (17 in. STL), the kink was about 1/2 inch from the tail tip. Now, at 41.5 in. STL, the bend is 4" from the end of his tail.


Partial Breaks and Lacerations
Many lizard species have tails that autotomize (break off) as a defense mechanism. In captivity, the breaks and drops may occur as a result of an attack or perceived attack by a cagemate, another household pet, or other animal. Breaks and drops may also occur when a human tries to grab a fleeing lizard (or one deep in a hiding place with only the tail in reach). Slamming the tail against a hard surface, or against the edge of a shelf or other object, or getting it temporarily trapped in something can also cause a break or drop.

Sometimes, the tail may break inside along a fracture plane but not detach and drop off. The result, when the area heals inside, may be a kink or bend or bump in the tail in that area.

Other times, as described in my Tail Loss And Breaks article, there may actually be a cut or tear through a significant amount of the skin and muscle tissue of the tail; there may or may not be an actual fracture in the tail vertebrae. If the owner gets the lizard to the vet right away, stitches to rejoin the laceration usually will save the tail; there may or may not be a slight bump there when the tail completely heals. However, if the laceration is not caught in time and enough of the blood supply is cut off from the distal (farthest from the head) end, the end will die from the lack of blood supply, shriveling up similar to what happens in cases of dry gangrene. Eventually, depending on how much tissue was initially severed, enough tissue will die so that only a small section of tissue and skin connects the dead or dying piece to the rest of the tail. If the connecting pieces is very small and fine, it will eventually break when the tail comes into contact with a hard surface.

If this happens, the new tail stump needs to be watched carefully to make sure that there is no infection in what is now the new tail tip. If, as a result of the tissue damage at the time of the initial injury, infection sets in, an abscess could form at the tip or dry gangrene could set in. This would result in a swelling, possibly oozing, area at or near the tail tip, or the process of dry gangrene, with the tail tip shrinking in on itself, becoming hard and brittle, with this process moving up the tail as the infection spreads. If an abscess or dry gangrene occur, the iguana must be taken to the vet to be treated appropriately. Otherwise, the local infection could spread into a systemic infection or, in the case of dry gangrene, continue undeterred up the tail, and along the way cause a systemic infection.

Note that in the case of some partial tail breaks, the tail "thinks" that part of the tail has broken off and so starts growing a new tail. But, since the original tail still exists and remains healthy, the lizard ends up with two tails - the original and the new one. While I don't have the reference handy, I do recall hearing or reading about one case where a lizard had three tails, the original and two new ones as a result of two different accidents involving the tail.


Acquired Skeletal Deformities
As a result of severe or prolonged metabolic bone disease, many lizards end up with permanent deformities even after the MBD itself has been successfully resolved. With MBD, bones may actually break, or they may be bent by the force exerted on them by the pull of muscles attached to them. If broken bones are not properly set, or the bent bones heal quickly once proper calcium and environment is provided to the lizard, there may be left a residual lump or bump in the bone that broke and knitted crookedly or that remained bent during the period of time that missing calcium was restored to the bone (see photo of Rugwort). When this happens along the spinal and tail vertebrae, bends and kinks may result.

Deformities may also be the result of traumatic accident. Adam Britton, a zoologist currently working for Wildlife Management International in Darwin, Australia, sent me a photo of a wild blue-tongue skink he examined. The skink had sometime previous suffered a traumatic spinal injury, but despite the dramatic deformity that resulted from it, was flourishing and so returned to the wild.


What You Can Do
The bottom line (or tail end, if you prefer) is that if you are new to lizards, or new to lizards who can drop their tails, get tail injuries and oddities checked out by your reptile vet. Infections, when they occur, can spread with devastating speed...or may poke along slowly, spreading without your realizing it, or stabilizing with the infection at the site but not spreading systemically. Since captive lizards (all reptiles, for that matter) are live in a state of chronic, albeit low levels of, stress, anything that stresses or challenges the immune system can result in some sort of infection. Best to be over-caution and get things checked out when you aren't sure, than to end up with a lizard with no tail or, worse, no lizard at all.

Related Articles


Dry Gangrene

Metabolic Bone Disease

Tail, Limb, Digit and Skin Autotomy

Tail Loss And Breaks

Need to update a veterinary or herp society/rescue listing?

Can't find a vet on my site? Check out these other sites.

Amphibians Conservation Health Lizards Resources
Behavior Crocodilians Herpetology Parent/Teacher Snakes
Captivity Education Humor Pet Trade Societies/Rescues
Chelonians Food/Feeding Invertebrates Plants Using Internet
Clean/Disinfect Green Iguanas & Cyclura Kids Prey Veterinarians
Home About Melissa Kaplan CND Lyme Disease Zoonoses
Help Support This Site   Emergency Preparedness

Brought to you thanks to the good folks at Veterinary Information Network, Inc.

© 1994-2014 Melissa Kaplan or as otherwise noted by other authors of articles on this site