[part 1 of series]
The second Wildlife Wednesdays series is dedicated to tails - long or short, fluffy or bare, important or useless!
A tail is usually a structure at the rear end of an animal. Anatomically, it is the sacrum or the coccyx in vertebrates, while in some invertebrates we refer to other rear appendages/structures as the tail. The tail - the tail bone - is usually with rather simple structure, made up of several smaller vertebrae.
Tails come in all sorts of sizes and shapes, often depending on their function. Not all kinds of tails have specific names, but some that do are scuts and prehensile tails. A scut is usually short and often erect, as in deer or rabbits. Prehensile tails are tails that serve as an extra limb and so are typically long. Some primates have prehensile tails, as do some other animals like possums.
Some animals don’t really have tails, or only have small stubs or vestigial tails. All mammals have a tail at some point of their development, but in some species, the tail has lost its evolutionary function, and so it disappears at some point or stops developing. Animals that don’t have a tail or have only a stub are sometimes referred to as “tail-impaired”.
Humans also only have vestigial tails. The human coccyx has lost its purpose of aiding with balance and movement. Therefore, while the tailbone develops and is prominent during some stages of fetus development, it later becomes unnoticeable and is not an outwardly distinct appendage. It hasn’t disappeared completely because it still has some functions. For example, some muscles are attached to the tailbone and it also helps support us when we are sitting down. Humans are at quite the disadvantage by not having a fluffy tail.
Generally, tails are important structures in all animals and can serve a variety of purposes including but not limited to:
- helping with balance
- serving as a communication device
- keeping away insects
- spreading pheromones
Over the course of the next few weeks, Wildlife Wednesdays will be making posts focusing on each different function of a tail, so watch out for those! They will also be linked in this post.
Stay tuned for more posts about tails and their specific purposes in a number of animals! Follow wildlifewednesdays, like us on Facebook, and reblog our posts to help the site grow. Feel free to send in questions!