Can animals regenerate body parts?

Once we lose a body part it’s gone forever, but some animals can regrow missing tails, limbs and even organs

Many species have the amazing ability to regenerate damaged body parts, or even become two separate animals if split in two. Starfish, sea cucumbers and flat worms can be cut into pieces that then each take on their own lives provided the central nervous system hasn’t been destroyed. Sponges have the extraordinary capacity to regenerate even if they are separated into single cells by being smashed against rocks by rough sea.

Sponges are colonies of cells that live as one large mass. Scientists placed living sponges into blenders to test their ability to reassemble themselves. Sure enough, the cells were able to find their way back to their solid state. Even more impressively, when two separate sponges were blended together they found their way back to their original places.

Sharks continually grow new teeth to replace ones they have lost, and through a shark’s life it can grow 24,000 teeth. Male deer grow antlers every year, just for them to drop off a few months later, but each year a stag’s antlers grow back larger than the previous set. Lizards famously drop their tails to escape predators and can grow a new tail in around nine months.

The master of body regeneration is the axolotl, which can regenerate a missing tail, lost limbs and even parts of the brain or heart. If an axolotl becomes paralysed, it can recover the function in their legs by building new brain cells and connections that allow their legs to work again.

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Image from flickr.com/photos/johnclare