Tail facts for kids

Kids Encyclopedia Facts
German Pinscher
A dog with a raised tail

A tail is the section at the rear end of an animal's body. Most animals have tails, like cats, dogs, whales, fish, cheetahs, and monkeys.

Function

Alopex lagopus IMG 9019
Vulpes lagopus (Arctic fox) sleeping with its tail wrapped as a blanket.

Animal tails are used in a variety of ways. They provide a source of locomotion for fish and some other forms of marine life. Many land animals use their tails to brush away flies and other biting insects. Some species, including cats and kangaroos, use their tails for balance; and some, such as New World monkeys and opossums, have what are known as prehensile tails, which are adapted to allow them to grasp tree branches.

Tails are also used for social signaling. Some deer species flash the white underside of their tails to warn other nearby deer of possible danger, beavers slap the water with their tails to indicate danger, and canids (including domestic dogs) indicate emotions through the positioning and movement of their tails. Some species' tails are armored, and some, such as those of scorpions, contain venom.

Some species of lizard can detach ("cast") their tails from their bodies. This can help them to escape predators, which are either distracted by the wriggling, detached tail or left with only the tail while the lizard flees. Tails cast in this manner generally grow back over time, though the replacement is typically darker in colour than the original. Various species of rat demonstrate a similar function with their tails, known as degloving, in which the outer layer is shed in order for the animal to escape from a predator.

Most birds' tails end in long feathers called rectrices. These feathers are used as a rudder, helping the bird steer and maneuver in flight; they also help the bird to balance while it is perched. In some species—such as birds of paradise, lyrebirds, and most notably peafowl—modified tail feathers play an important role in courtship displays. The extra-stiff tail feathers of other species, including woodpeckers and woodcreepers, allow them to brace themselves firmly against tree trunks.

The tails of grazing animals, such as horses, are used both to sweep away insects and positioned or moved in ways that indicate the animal's physical or emotional state.

Images for kids


Tail Facts for Kids. Kiddle Encyclopedia.