Ancient Reptile Could Detach Its Tail To Escape Predators

Posted: Mar 8 2018, 9:27pm CST | by , Updated: Mar 8 2018, 11:42pm CST, in News | Latest Science News

 
Ancient Reptile Separates its Tail from Body to Escape Predators
Credit: University of Toronto

Reptile that lived 289 million years ago could separate its tail from body for survival

A tiny reptile that lived hundreds of millions of years ago used to have a unique strategy for deceiving predators. It could detach its tail from the grasp of predators and get away. This is the oldest known example of such behavior.

Escape from a predator is something animals do on a daily basis. Animals have developed a number of defenses to successfully evade predators as they look for food and mates. Some hide by using camouflage while many other run fast enough to escape their pursuer. The ancient reptiles, called Captorhinus, had their way to deal with this situation.

Captorhinus weighed less than two kilograms and lived 289 million years ago. They were small yet common animal in terrestrial communities during the Early Permian period. Like other small omnivores and herbivores, Captorhinus had to protect themselves from meat-eating amphibians and mammals, and escape was often the last line of their defense.

“One of the ways Captorhinids could do this was by having breakable tail vertebrae," said lead study author Aaron LeBlanc from University of Toronto. "Like many present-day lizard species, such as skinks, that can detach their tails to escape or distract a predator, the middle of many tail vertebrae had cracks in them."

Researchers examined more than 70 isolated tail bones from both juveniles and adults and compared them with Captorhinids relatives. They found that this ability was likely restricted to Captorhinids in the Permian Period.

The cracks were features that formed naturally as the tail bones were developing. Researchers suggest that cracks on Captorhinids tail acted like the perforated lines between two paper towel sheets, allowing it to detach certain cracks as a predator grabbed it to eat.

“If a predator grabbed hold of one of these reptiles, the vertebra would break at the crack, and the tail would drop off, allowing the captorhinid to escape relatively unharmed.” Professor Robert Reisz from U of T Mississauga said.

This escape strategy also explains why Captorhinus were the most abundant reptile in early terrestrial communities. They originated in the Late Carboniferous and by the end of the Permian Period, they spread across the ancient supercontinent of Pangaea.

Interestingly, young captorhinids had well-formed cracks, while those in some adults were more blended, suggesting young individuals need this ability more to defend themselves.

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