Baby Alligators Can Regrow Severed Tails, Study Says

Baby alligators who regrow their tails don't retain the same functionality as the original tail.
1243px Alligator Mississippiensis Baby
A baby American alligator can regrow its tail, but not with the same functionality. Photo by Ianaré Sévi/Wikipedia

A study published in Scientific Reports says that baby American alligators (Alligator mississippiensis) can regenerate up to 18 inches of their tails when they are lost due to predation, accidents or another means.

The researchers, with the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries and Arizona State University, found that the regrown tails were approximately six to 18 percent of the total body length of the reptiles and were “morphologically distinct from original tail segments.” This is often the same with lizard species that can regrow their tails. They often don’t retain the same functionality as the original tail.

“What makes the alligator interesting, apart from its size, is that the regrown tail exhibits signs of both regeneration and wound healing within the same structure,” Cindy Xu, a Ph.D graduate from ASU’s School of Life Sciences molecular and cellular biology program and lead author of the paper said in a press release put out by the university.

“Regrowth of cartilage, blood vessels, nerves and scales were consistent with previous studies of lizard tail regeneration from our lab and others,” she said. “However, we were surprised to discover scar-like connective tissue in place of skeletal muscle in the regrown alligator tail. Future comparative studies will be important to understand why regenerative capacity is variable among different reptile and animal groups.”

The new tails lacked skeletal muscle and are comprised of fibrous connective tissue built from type I and type III collagen fibers. This regrowth is similar to that of the regrown tails of tuatara and the regenerated limbs of Xenopus adult frogs.

Regenerated Lizard Tails Not As Functional As Originals

The researchers noted that understanding the limitations of the tails of these reptiles will help in developing regenerative therapies that could be applied to humans.

“If we understand how different animals are able to repair and regenerate tissues, this knowledge can then be leveraged to develop medical therapies,” said Rebecca Fisher, co-author and professor with the University of Arizona College of Medicine-Phoenix and ASU’s School of Life Sciences.

Baby alligators who regrow their tails don’t retain the same functionality as the original tail, the study concludes.

The complete study, “Anatomical and histological analyses reveal that tail repair is coupled with regrowth in wild-caught, juvenile American alligators (Alligator mississippiensis)” can be read on the website.

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