The Purpose of Tails on Animals

Tails aren’t purely decorative. They have quite a few important functions.

Many species use them in communication. They can tell you a lot about the animal’s mood or state of mind. A dog carrying his tail between his legs, for instance, is a dog who’s feeling a lot of anxiety, fear or remorse. If your dog greets you at the door with this “message,” you may want to take a quick survey of your home for signs of damage or “accidents.”

A cat sporting a tail raised like a flagpole is probably telling you she’s feeling quite pleased with herself. But a raised tail in a skunk means, “get out of my space or suffer the consequences.” And that’s a message you wouldn’t want to ignore.

A wagging canine tail is a sign for happiness or excitement. But a cat with a tense, twitching tail is clearly warning you he’s in a very bad mood. Beavers slap their flat, paddle-like tails on the water to alert their family of impending danger. Tails can tell you a lot about an animal’s state of mind.

Prehensile tails are quite useful for hanging from trees or swinging through the jungle from branch to branch. Squirrels don’t use their tails for hanging or swinging, but their tails are multifunctional. They help the squirrel balance as he scampers gracefully across the trees, telephone poles, and rooftops. Their tails serve as insulation against the cold winter winds and as umbrellas shielding them from rain or the blazing sun. And those bushy little tails are just so darn cute.

A tail can make a handy flyswatter on a hot summer day when you find yourself surrounded by annoying, bite-y insects. Just ask any cow out grazing in the field. Kangaroos can themselves on their powerful tails, freeing their powerful legs to fend off enemies – a pretty neat little martial arts trick. And some tails even serve as weapons, themselves. I wouldn’t want to get in the way of an angry crocodile’s tail, which can be as deadly as the sharp teeth and powerful jaws at the other end of the beast.

Tails can even be used as instruments of navigation. Human observation of birds and fish allowed us to engineer airplanes and ships that can navigate through the air and water.

All in all, tails seem to be pretty useful appendages.