au·​tot·​o·​my ȯ-ˈtä-tə-mē How to pronounce autotomy (audio)
: reflex separation of a part (such as an appendage) from the body : division of the body into two or more pieces
autotomous adjective
autotomize verb

Examples of autotomy in a Sentence

Recent Examples on the Web Over the course of the study, five of 15 E. marginata decapitated themselves, a behavior known as autotomy. David Shultz, Science | AAAS, 8 Mar. 2021 Economy of arm autotomy in the mesopelagic squid Octopoteuthis deletron. Ed Yong, Discover Magazine, 1 Aug. 2012 For scorpions, tail autotomy is even more punishing. Bradley Allf, Smithsonian Magazine, 1 Mar. 2021 Leopard geckos are one of a few lizard species that possess this self-amputation ability, known as autotomy. Jason G. Goldman, Scientific American, 1 Dec. 2017

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'autotomy.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History


borrowed from French autotomie, from auto- auto- + -tomie -tomy

Note: The term was introduced by the Belgian physiologist Léon Fredericq (1851-1935) in "Sur l'autotomie ou mutilation par voie réflexe comme moyen de défense chez les animaux," Archives de zoologie expérimentale et générale, deuxième série, tome premier (1883), pp. 413-26.

First Known Use

1887, in the meaning defined above

Time Traveler
The first known use of autotomy was in 1887

Dictionary Entries Near autotomy

Cite this Entry

“Autotomy.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 14 Jun. 2024.

Medical Definition


au·​tot·​o·​my ȯ-ˈtät-ə-mē How to pronounce autotomy (audio)
plural autotomies
: reflex separation of a part from the body especially in an invertebrate

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