Surprise! Alligators Can Regrow Their Tails

Young alligators can regenerate their tails.
Young alligators can regenerate their tails. / Photo by Engin Akyurt from Pexels

Few animals cause more apprehension than alligators, which seem to consist mostly of a bone-crunching maw with legs attached. If one clamps down on prey, it can exert 2960 pounds of force. They can also climb trees, so good luck evading them.

Now, scientists have a new alligator attribute to study. Young alligators can seemingly regrow a lost tail up to 9 inches in length.

The information comes from a new study published in the journal Scientific Reports. It's something of a surprise to researchers, who have documented limb regrowth in smaller reptiles like iguanas and geckos, but never on this scale. A team at Arizona State University was able to examine a number of tails from four euthanized American alligators that demonstrated evidence of regrowth under x-ray and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) visualization, as well as dissection.

The tails are not perfect replacements. Researchers saw none of the skeletal muscle present in a typical tail.

The trait proves useful for young alligators, since they’re small enough to be considered prey for birds, racoons, and other alligators. Replacing a missing tail is important because the animal needs it for balance and for swimming.

Researchers say it’s possible adult alligators have the same ability, though it’s not yet been directly observed.

[h/t National Geographic]