Why Animals have Tails

Species without tails may consider the appendage useless, but as any fan of Animal Planet knows, tails are essential to animals in the wild. These fatty planks often assist animals in everyday life.


Tree climbers use their tails for balance. Squirrels are the best example of this. They use their tail to help them land properly from branch to branch. Also if they fall the tail helps them create a wind resistance in short, a parachute.

For a demonstration of this balancing act turn to the ordinary house cat. Whether waiting for the goldfish to swim by, or stalking the birds outside along the banister, cats use their tails to catch themselves.


Goldie the fish isn’t the only creature that uses her tail to swim. Large lizards swim with thick rudder like tails. Water Monitors in Malaysia use their tails not only as rudders, but weapons. Kimono Dragons swim for miles with their tails. The ability to move through the ocean island to island is essential to the survival of the species. And of course Crocodiles and Alligators would starve without the aid of their tails during hunting for food.


Just as Water Monitors protect themselves with their tails, many insects and mammals do the same. The most obvious example is the scorpion. All scorpions have venom in their tails. The barb is located at the top of the spring action tail. More common in the middle east and tropical climates, scorpions have captured America’s attention.

Less dangerous tails include the horse’s tail. Long and bristly, horses will brush irritates away from their space.


“Strutting like a peacock.” Anyone who had a grandmother who used this saying knows she was describing someone who was showing off. Why a peacock? Because peacock males are given beautiful tail feathers. Not only do the feathers give them an imposing size to predators, but they are more importantly used to attract a mate. Only the boldest and most exquisite males achieve fatherhood. The tails are so ornate that they prevent the male from getting away from predators. So the phrase “one night of love” is essential to the male peacock.

The Extra Hand

Howler Monkeys have been entertaining people for years with their ingenious uses of their tail. Whether hanging, balancing, wrapping around branches and off spring the Howler Monkey is the most creative with his tail. Not just a lifeless appendage, the tail of the Howler Monkey is a functional fifth limb.


Most animals use their tail to signal emotion. Horses, cats, and dogs are more known for this. Usually a docile creature a horse will whip his tail around in agitation. But cats and dogs are more expressive. Both animals tuck their tails in fear, both wag them in approval. And both strut with tail in the air with confidence. If an animal’s tail stops or stiffens, time to stop.

The tail means different things to different animals. But the functions are almost universally the same. An animal uses their tail to swim, balance, to protect itself, to hold on, find Ms. Right, and warn a companion what their thinking. Nature made the tail for a mood gauge, one that is fairly accurate.

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