DO MOST ANIMALS HAVE TAILS?
My 8-year-old daughter asked me if frogs and humans are the only animals
that do not have tails. I had no idea, but it did make me want to ask
my own question how many different ways do animals use their
Most vertebrate animals do indeed have obvious tails, whereas some major
animal groups are unequivocally tailless creatures. Shellfish, snails
and starfish come to mind. Many insects also have tails, although the
anatomical origin is not an extension of the spine as in vertebrates.
Nonetheless, insects use their tails for a variety of purposes, including
stinging, spraying toxic chemicals at a predator and depositing eggs
in the ground or into wood. Scorpions and stingrays are noted for actively
using their tails as a weapon for protection. Some lizards use their
tails in defense in a different manner. The tail breaks off when caught
by a predator, allowing the rest of the lizard to escape.
Gila monsters of the Southwest have tails that are enormously fat but
do not come off. They use the tail to store energy during periods when
food is scarce. An African chameleon has what is called a prehensile
tail that works like a fifth foot to hold onto limbs when climbing.
Possums and some monkeys also have prehensile tails. A rattlesnake uses
its tail as a warning device when it is scared. Many harmless snakes
also vibrate their tails, and if they are lying amid dried leaves, they
too make a rattling sound.
and cottonmouths use their tails in an intriguing way. When they are
born, and for a few months afterward, they have bright yellow tips on
the ends. When the snake is coiled up, the tail points up from the center
and serves as a lure to capture prey. Small lizards and frogs apparently
think the tail looks like a worm ready to be eaten. In many dark-colored
snakes, such as mud snakes and ring-necked snakes, the underside of
the tail is brightly colored; when threatened, the snake displays the
tail, which is in conspicuous contrast to the rest of the body. The
sudden display of color can confuse a prospective predator. As the snake
begins to crawl away, it lowers its tail. The predator is now searching
for a bright color, and the snakes dark body is well camouflaged
against the dirt or mud, allowing it to escape.
boa of California has a short, blunt tail that looks almost identical
to its head. When threatened by a predator, this snake arranges its
body in such a manner that the tail is exposed while the head is hidden
safely beneath the snake. The predator that bites the-tail-that-looks-like-a-head
is in for an unpleasant surprise. The boa squirts a foul-smelling liquid
from the tail region that would make any predator lose its appetite.
crocodiles and fish use their flat-ended tails to propel themselves
through water. Some sea snakes that spend almost their entire life in
the water also have flattened tails that aid in swimming. Some crocodilians
use their tails to knock prey off the bank and into the water. Family
dogs I have had used their tails to knock coffee cups off tables. The
tails of birds are aerodynamically essential for maneuvering in flight.
Male turkeys and peacocks are noted for fanning their large, colorful
tails during courtship displays.
how animals use their tails provides insight into some of the ecological
purposes to which an appendage can be put. And the third grade is not
too early to want to know why the creatures of the world are the way
they are. A good class exercise would be to list the many ways animals
use their tails. Enjoying ecology is often a matter of simple observations.
Incidentally, frogs and humans do have tails during early development
in the embryo stage for people and during the tadpole stage for
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