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Geckos can glom on to vertical surfaces, but they’ve also got a few tricks up their tails.

Click on the image above for a video of a leopard gecko tail immediately following tail autotomy (self-severing). In addition to rhythmic swinging, the tail performs several flips. The upper panel offers a bird's-eye view, the lower panel a side perspective.
Courtesy of Timothy Higham/Department of Biological Sciences, Clemson University

Memo to magicians who saw ladies in half, revealing dancing feet: You’ve been upstaged by a leopard gecko. Like many other lizards, this species surrenders its tail when threatened. A recent study published in Biology Letters has found that the gecko’s sacrificed stub can wiggle for up to 30 minutes, performing a series of rhythmic, waglike swings interspersed with complex acrobatics involving flips, jumps, and lunges. At least one neuron network (and possibly more) in the leopard gecko’s spinal cord, called a central pattern generator, probably causes the movements, which could be a survival strategy for the species. Leopard geckos live in wide-open deserts with few places to hide; their complicated tail gymnastics “might increase the distraction for a predator,” says Timothy Higham, the study’s lead author, thereby enabling the gecko’s grand finale—a disappearing act. Click on the image above for a video of a severed tail.—Julie Leibach

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