That extra appendage swinging on the back of your favorite animal isn’t there
by accident, and it wasn’t put there primarily for the benefit of cartoonists
drawing Garfield or Snoopy. It serves a purpose—in fact, many purposes.
And every hand-selected designer accessory has traits unique to its owner.
How would you like to be known as
the world’s fastest runner? It’s not
just in the legs. The cheetah uses
its long muscular tail as a rudder, so
when it shifts direction at lightning
speed, it doesn’t flip over and go
sprawling. If you’ve ever gone skiing or
snowboarding fast, you know stability
and maneuverability at high speeds
take special skill. For the cheetah, it’s
a skill from the Creator.
Alligators are known for their ferocity
and razor-sharp maw. But they
wouldn’t be worth a dime without
their special tail. The alligator’s tail
propels it rapidly through water at up
to 20 miles per hour (32 kph). When it
is sneaking up on unsuspecting prey,
the explosive energy stored in those
tail muscles can catapult it completely
out of the water.
Giraffes have long tails with tufts on
the end, like cows and zebras. Have
you ever wondered why? When they
swing naturally, these tails shoo away
flies. But if one dares to land, the tip
accelerates to three times the normal
speed, delivering a powerful blow no
fly will walk away from.
Tails aren’t just limp rags or wet
noodles. Some have powerful
networks of muscles that enable
them to grab hold of things, like an
extra hand. These kinds of tails, which
help give monkeys their fame, have
a technical name: prehensile. The tip
of a monkey’s tail has densely packed
nerve endings on the underside like
a fingertip. With this “third hand,”
monkeys pick up food as small as a
peanut, and some even use their tails
to peel their favorite snack.
How would you like to be a tiny,
slow reptile in a forest full of hungry
predators? An iguana’s tail is a muscular
whip that would make any aggressor
think twice before attacking. One flick
of its powerful tail can break the legs
of a small dog. If that’s not enough, the
iguana can drop its whip and scurry away.
The detached tail continues to thrash
and distract a predator while the iguana
escapes. Over time, the tail will grow back.
When a dog is lying down with its
eyes closed, seemingly oblivious to the
world, its tail can suddenly take on a life
of its own. It’s communicating and has a
lot to say. In a confrontation, for instance,
dogs tend to wag their tails to the left
to warn of stress. If they wag their tails
to the right, they are usually enjoying
themselves. Other dogs notice these
signs and respond accordingly.