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.