Doing without: Jump performance after tail autotomy in three species of plethodontid salamanders
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Hessel, Anthony L.
Ryerson, William G.
Whitenack, Lisa B.
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The ability of plethodontid salamanders to jump has been recognized for over 100 yr, but the mechanics of the jump are only now being elucidated. These salamanders often autotomize tails that can be as much as a third of the body mass. Tail loss alters jump performance in some lizards and therefore may also alter jump performance in the plethodontid salamanders. In this study, we used a high-speed camera to record subjects representing three species of plethodontid salamanders jumping with and without tails. The kinematic analyses indicate that take-off velocity, take-off angle, and maximum height are similar between salamanders with and without tails. Jump characteristics are highly variable within the individual for all salamanders (with or without tails) and this indicates that salamanders do not need to produce the same jump consistently to succeed in their primary task of escape. Better coordination might exist for arboreal plethodontid salamanders that use jumping for purposes other than escape. Future studies should focus on the in-air dynamics and landing kinematics of the salamander, as the tail plays a large role during in-air balance and landing control in other tetrapod species that jump.