Journal of Zoology

Ecological and histological aspects of tail loss in spiny mice (Rodentia: Muridae, Acomys) with a review of its occurrence in rodents

Eyal Shargal a1, Lea Rath-Wolfson a2, Noga Kronfeld a1 and Tamar Dayan a1c1
a1 Department of Zoology, Tel Aviv University, Ramat Aviv, Tel Aviv 69978, Israel
a2 Rabin Medical Center, Golda Campus, Petah Tiqva, Israel


Many individual nocturnal common spiny mice Acomys cahirinus and diurnal golden spiny mice A. russatus in the field are found missing all or part of their tails. Possibly, this is a predator avoidance mechanism. A 25-month field study revealed that at Ein Gedi (Israel) percentage tail-loss is 63% in male and 44% in female golden spiny mice, and 12% in male and 25% in female common spiny mice. Tail loss is significantly more common in golden spiny mice than in common spiny mice, possibly reflecting differences in predation risk or predator efficiency between the different microhabitats used by these species and in their different activity times. However, inter- and intraspecific aggressive interactions may also account in part for this pattern. Few significant differences in longevity, body mass, or reproductive condition were found between tailed and tail-less spiny mice, suggesting an advantage to tail-less individuals. Histological sections revealed a plane separating the skin layer from the underlying muscles and vertebrae, facilitating loss of the skin with little bleeding. The remainder (muscles and bone) is later chewed off by the mouse. A survey of published cases of tail loss in rodents revealed that this phenomenon occurs in at least 35 species and has evolved separately in eight rodent families, with no clear pattern in systematics, geography, or habitat use.

(Accepted December 16 1998)

Key Words: spiny mice; tail loss; autotomy; histology; predation.

c1 All correspondence to: T. Dayan, Department of Zoology, Tel Aviv University, Ramat Aviv, Tel Aviv 69978, Israel