Tail is a flexible part of an animal, an extension of the backbone. The animals have tails of different sizes and shapes. They can be short and long fulfilling a range of very useful functions serving as a versatile tool which has transformed through years in accordance with needs specified by evolutionary adaptations. Even people have a tailbone which could be continued with a marvelous tail. But still, we do not have this part of our body which would require material changes to our fashionable outfit… Probably, we are not equipped with it because we do not need it to perform our tasks in everyday living. While animals cannot do without a tail serving a lot of vital purposes. So, what is the purpose of a tail?
Functions of a tail
Most vertebrate animals are equipped with tails of different strength and size, whereas the other animal groups are made without any hint on this part. The human is one of these tailless creatures.
The tail is usually a straightforward appendage with various shapes, coat coverings, and usages. Even scientists are not able to list all functions tails serve due to their variability. There are cases when it is completely clear what task is performed with the help of a tail or what biological need is satisfied with it. There are also examples, when a reason for a tail to exist is unclear. That is why now we are going to consider only key functions of animals tails, which are observed broadly:
· Balance is one of the most common reasons for land animals to have tails. The tail is used as a counterbalance that is needed to move in the chosen direction, to run quickly and take turns confidently on any terrain. It can be especially proved by a cat which uses its tail to walk over a thin uneven surface. The squirrels have bushy tails which make them very much balanced at the moment of leaping from one place to another.
· The tail can add to navigation greatly making an animal’s movement more straightforward. There are cases when moving without a tail is almost impossible or we’d say rather difficult. The example is fish which propel itself through the water wagging with tail from side to side. If the animals live on trees, they need their tails to grasp branches and move easily through treetops. By the way, such tails are known as prehensile tails.
· A lot of animals are equipped with tails developed exactly to protect them from enemies. They may hit with a powerful tail, or confuse, distract predators manipulating tails. You will see what we mean if you remember rattlesnakes creating a rattling sound when they are in danger. In such a way they scare off the enemies. Most lizards are able to detach their tails casting them aside leaving an affordable dinner for the chasers. There are animals which attack with their tails. Stingray has a tail with venomous barbs which are used to kill threatening predators. Scorpions use their tails as a weapon for protection.
· Tails can be applied as efficient means of communication with other members of the environment. It is possible to make signals to family or friends, to warn of close dangers, show emotions, and affection. The deer can demonstrate the tail from its white underside to tell the mates that there is a potential danger. The beaver slaps its tail against the water to warn about predators. Why do cats whip their tails? They show their irritation. Why do dogs have tails? Dogs show their emotional state by making particular movements of their tails. Everybody knows that happy wagging tail of a puppy being ready to see his master. But this part of a dog’s body is much more than wags. If you see a dog with a droopy tail, you’d better be aware – a dog is upset. This is a clear indicator of a pup’s mood. If a man changes facial expressions or voice, a dog tries informing people of the vital things with its tail. It can give support to a man chilling him up with a tail.
· Tail is able to warm up and comfort in cold weather. The cats, foxes, and others use their fluffy tails to cover the body, to hide a face in it while sleeping.
· Some animals accumulate fat in the tails and keep it until the lean months in winter, like alligators.
· Mating rituals are not completely efficient if a tail is not applied. The males usually have beautiful bright tails to attract the attention of females in mating rituals. This is the way they stand out from potential competitors. We can mention birds of paradise with stunning tail feathers. The tail may be also used as a tool to kick away a rival.
· Some animals use their tails to sting, spray toxic or other chemicals at an enemy.
· There are those who deposit eggs into the soil using a tail.
Identifying the way which animals use to benefit from their tails, we can understand important ecological purposes which can be easily proved with simple observations.
Why don’t we have tails?
We are able to walk upright and that peculiarity provides us with a number of benefits. Four-legged animals have to spend their energy to make steps, while a human is supported with gravity, which helps a lot pulling us forward when we walk. There is no need for an additional navigation facility. That is a reason for spending much less energy compared with animals walking on their four legs (the economy is equal to 25%). And that means that we have more chances to survive without a tail.
That is why there is no need for a counterbalance. Perhaps, our ancient ancestors had a tail but one day it disappeared while we have been evolving. Everybody can find evidence of the fact that a human had a tail. Just have a look at your spine ending with a few bones partially fused together. Do you know that this is a tailbone?
Animals without tail
Do all animals have tails? No, there are types which live without tail. We’ll not list all of them but discuss the most popular creatures which do not need a tail for other reasons compared with a human. Didn’t you buy a starfish having a rest at the seaside in your childhood? Definitely you know these sea stars having the body in a star shape. These animals live under the deep sea water. They have no tail as well as spiders. Spiders have eight legs and sometimes fangs with venom. None of the existing species has a tail though they are able to jump up to six times their length. Still they use other mechanism to navigate. Kiwi birds living in New Zealand cannot fly because they have small wings, but its strangest peculiarity is a zero tail.
If we consider mammals, what animals don’t have tails? Manx cat, which can hardly be imagined without a tail, still does without it. Or we should be accurate and say that they have the shortest one you can imagine which is not observed from the outside. This is a result of a genetic mutation. Manx cats can still balance themselves but in a worse way compared with their mates with tails. And by the way due to problems with genes sometimes Manx kittens are born having a normal tail. Apes do not have tails either. This is the closest relatives to humans, probably that is the reason for their tailless bodies. Scientists suppose that they had tails but lost them 4 million years ago.
And to sum up we’d say a couple of words about the animal with the strongest tail. This is the blue whale. They have the tail as a part of the whole body more than any other animal has. Blue whales can boast not only of the strongest tail but also of being the biggest and strongest animal on the Earth. They can be very dangerous if they meet ships in the sea. Though, they are usually not aggressive and do not eat humans. Their menu consists of planktons and shrimps.
Well there is not any part of the body that does not perform some important function. Every detail is developed for a particular purpose. The tail is essential for those animals which need it to survive. While those who can live without this part, just do not have it.