Why do animals have tails?

Why do animals have tails? – Kristin M., age 11, Kansas City, Missouri, United States


Scientists have found fossils of animals whose tails are hundreds of years old. At that time, ancient fish used their fan-like tails as flippers to swim across the ocean and evade predators.

As these fish evolved into land creatures, their tails also changed.

Tails provide many uses for animals, be it reptiles, insects, birds and mammals. Modern animals like the ones we use today often use tails to perform a variety of tasks, from maintaining balance to communicating and finding mates.

Equipment for balance and movement

Scientists believe that dinosaurs, including Tyrannosaurus rex, moved their tails from side to side to balance their massive head and body while walking on two legs. This movement helps them to run fast enough to catch their prey.

Like dinosaurs, today’s kangaroos use their tails to stay balanced when jumping in open ground. Not only does the kangaroo’s tail act as a powerful third leg to help propel them through the air against their body weight.

Cats and other climbing animals often have bushy or long tails that help them balance, just like a person walking on a leash and holding a long stick.

Monkeys use their long tail to maintain balance while swinging on tree branches in the forest. Many monkeys also have tails that can grip and act like hands and allow them to grasp tree branches.

This tail is so strong that it can support the animal while eating fruits and leaves.

Tyrannosaurus rex can wag its heavy tail to balance itself while walking.

safety mechanics

Other animals have tails that develop into arms. For example, stingrays have an iconic stinging tail that can be used as a defense when predators attack them.

Rattlesnakes have buttons of dry skin on their tails that make a loud noise when moved. This tail signals to any animal that may threaten the rattlesnake that it is preparing to attack.

Many insects also have tails, but they are more developed than other animals with backbones, such as fish and mammals. Most tailed insects use their tails to lay eggs or sting and paralyze their host or prey. In some animals, such as wasps, the tail can do both. This tail will make it easier for some parasitic wasps to lay eggs inside their host.

Grass eaters, such as bison in North America, wildebeest in Africa, and giraffes, have long-haired tails that can be waved to drive away mosquitoes and other insects that may bother them. Domestic cattle and horses also have similar tails.

A brown rattlesnake waving its rattle in the wind
Rattlesnakes have tails that have evolved to help them survive.
Paul Starosta/Stone via Getty Images

communication tool

Birds use their feathered tails to provide balance as they sit on tree branches and guide them and reduce drag while flying. Some birds also use their tails to indicate when it is mating season.

This visual display is most notable among species such as turkeys and peacocks. Male turkeys and peacocks spread their colorful tail feathers to attract female mates.

Animals that live and hunt in herds or herds, such as wolves, use different positions of their tails to indicate their position within the group.

Dogs, descendants of wolves, also use their tails to communicate. You have probably seen dogs wagging their tails when they are happy.

why don’t humans have tails

Although humans did not have a long, gripping tail like the tail of monkeys or a brightly colored feathered tail like the tail of a peacock, our ancestors did.

Scientists believe that the tail disappeared from human ancestors about 20 million years ago. Once they start walking straight, they no longer need a tail to help them stay balanced.


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This article was translated from English by Zalfa Imani Trijatna from the University of Indonesia.

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