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

Eyal Shargal, Lea Rath-Wolfson, Noga Kronfeld, Tamar Dayan*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


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.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)187-193
Number of pages7
JournalJournal of Zoology
Issue number2
StatePublished - Oct 1999


  • Autotomy
  • Histology
  • Predation
  • Spiny mice
  • Tail loss


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