What Are Tails for?
Tails may look funny. But they can be very important. If you look at all the animals that have tails and the ways they use them, it’s clear that tails can and do serve many purposes. Animal tails come in all sizes and shapes. Some are short and curly. Some are long and straight. The tails of animals are good for many things.
Jumping animals, such as cats and kangaroos, use their tails for balance. Many monkeys use their long tails to help them climb trees. Horses and cows swish away pesky insects with their tails. A fish swims with its tail, of course, and so do many other water creatures. A bird without a tail would have a hard time taking off and landing.
Dogs give special messages to other dogs by wagging their tails. One kind of wag means, “I’m happy to see you.” Another means, “I’m the boss around here.” A rattlesnake talks with his tail too. He shakes his tail and it rattles. He’s saying, “stay away. I’m getting ready to bite.” The beaver has a wide, flat tail. It helps him steer when he swims. But he talks with it too. He slaps his tail on the water. This is a warning to other beavers: Danger is near!”
What else can tails do? They can save an animal’s life. Some lizards have tails that pull right off. An enemy may grab the lizard by the tail. Off comes the tail! And the lizard runs away. Later he grows a brand-new tail. An alligator has a wide, hard tail. He can fight his enemies with it. He swings his tail like a huge club.
Tails can help some animals get their food, too. The spider monkey uses his long tail as an extra hand. He picks fruit from the trees with it, or he reaches into the bird’s nests and steals eggs with it. And the little brown bat uses his tail to scoop up flying insects. They’ll be his dinner. So you see a tail may look funny. But it can be an animals’ best friend.