Prehensile tail
Overview
A prehensile tail is the tail
Tail
The tail is the section at the rear end of an animal's body; in general, the term refers to a distinct, flexible appendage to the torso. It is the part of the body that corresponds roughly to the sacrum and coccyx in mammals, reptiles, and birds...

 of an animal
Animal
Animals are a major group of multicellular, eukaryotic organisms of the kingdom Animalia or Metazoa. Their body plan eventually becomes fixed as they develop, although some undergo a process of metamorphosis later on in their life. Most animals are motile, meaning they can move spontaneously and...

 that has adapted to be able to grasp and/or hold objects. Fully prehensile tails can be used to hold and manipulate objects, and in particular to aid arboreal creatures in finding and eating food in the trees. If the tail cannot be used for this it is considered only partially prehensile - such tails are often used to anchor an animal's body to dangle from a branch
Branch
A branch or tree branch is a woody structural member connected to but not part of the central trunk of a tree...

, or as an aid for climbing.
Encyclopedia
A prehensile tail is the tail
Tail
The tail is the section at the rear end of an animal's body; in general, the term refers to a distinct, flexible appendage to the torso. It is the part of the body that corresponds roughly to the sacrum and coccyx in mammals, reptiles, and birds...

 of an animal
Animal
Animals are a major group of multicellular, eukaryotic organisms of the kingdom Animalia or Metazoa. Their body plan eventually becomes fixed as they develop, although some undergo a process of metamorphosis later on in their life. Most animals are motile, meaning they can move spontaneously and...

 that has adapted to be able to grasp and/or hold objects. Fully prehensile tails can be used to hold and manipulate objects, and in particular to aid arboreal creatures in finding and eating food in the trees. If the tail cannot be used for this it is considered only partially prehensile - such tails are often used to anchor an animal's body to dangle from a branch
Branch
A branch or tree branch is a woody structural member connected to but not part of the central trunk of a tree...

, or as an aid for climbing. The term prehensile means "able to grasp" (from the Latin prehendere, the root of "comprehend" and "apprehend").

Evolution of the prehensile tail

One point of interest is the distribution of animals with prehensile tails. The prehensile tail is predominantly a New World
New World
The New World is one of the names used for the Western Hemisphere, specifically America and sometimes Oceania . The term originated in the late 15th century, when America had been recently discovered by European explorers, expanding the geographical horizon of the people of the European middle...

 adaptation, especially among mammals. Many more animals in South America
South America
South America is a continent situated in the Western Hemisphere, mostly in the Southern Hemisphere, with a relatively small portion in the Northern Hemisphere. The continent is also considered a subcontinent of the Americas. It is bordered on the west by the Pacific Ocean and on the north and east...

 have prehensile tails than in Africa
Africa
Africa is the world's second largest and second most populous continent, after Asia. At about 30.2 million km² including adjacent islands, it covers 6% of the Earth's total surface area and 20.4% of the total land area...

 and Southeast Asia. It has been argued that animals with prehensile tails predominate in South America as the forest
Forest
A forest, also referred to as a wood or the woods, is an area with a high density of trees. As with cities, depending where you are in the world, what is considered a forest may vary significantly in size and have various classification according to how and what of the forest is composed...

 is very dense compared to that of Africa or Southeast Asia. In contrast, in less dense forest such as in Southeast Asia it is observed that gliding animals
Flying and gliding animals
A number of animals have evolved aerial locomotion, either by powered flight or by gliding. Flying and gliding animals have evolved separately many times, without any single ancestor. Flight has evolved at least four times, in the insects, pterosaurs, birds, and bats. Gliding has evolved on many...

 such as colugo
Colugo
Colugos are arboreal gliding mammals found in South-east Asia. There are just two extant species, which make up the entire family Cynocephalidae and order Dermoptera. They are the most capable of all gliding mammals, using flaps of extra skin between their legs to glide from higher to lower...

s or flying snakes tend to be more common instead, whereas there are few gliding vertebrates in South America. Also South American rainforests tend to have more liana
Liana
A liana is any of various long-stemmed, woody vines that are rooted in the soil at ground level and use trees, as well as other means of vertical support, to climb up to the canopy to get access to well-lit areas of the forest. Lianas are especially characteristic of tropical moist deciduous...

s as there are fewer large animals to eat them compared to Africa and Asia; the presence of lianas perhaps aiding climbers but obstructing gliders. Curiously, Australia-New Guinea contains many mammal
Mammal
Mammals are members of a class of air-breathing vertebrate animals characterised by the possession of endothermy, hair, three middle ear bones, and mammary glands functional in mothers with young...

s with prehensile tails and also many mammals which can glide; in fact, all Australian mammalian gliders have tails that are prehensile to an extent.

Anatomy and physiology of the prehensile tail

Tails are mostly a feature of vertebrate
Vertebrate
Vertebrates are animals that are members of the subphylum Vertebrata . Vertebrates are the largest group of chordates, with currently about 58,000 species described. Vertebrates include the jawless fishes, bony fishes, sharks and rays, amphibians, reptiles, mammals, and birds...

s; however, some invertebrate
Invertebrate
An invertebrate is an animal without a backbone. The group includes 97% of all animal species – all animals except those in the chordate subphylum Vertebrata .Invertebrates form a paraphyletic group...

s such as scorpion
Scorpion
Scorpions are predatory arthropod animals of the order Scorpiones within the class Arachnida. They have eight legs and are easily recognized by the pair of grasping claws and the narrow, segmented tail, often carried in a characteristic forward curve over the back, ending with a venomous stinger...

s also have appendage
Appendage
In invertebrate biology, an appendage is an external body part, or natural prolongation, that protrudes from an organism's body . It is a general term that covers any of the homologous body parts that may extend from a body segment...

s that can be considered tails. However, only vertebrates are known to have developed prehensile tails. Many mammals with prehensile tails will have a bare patch to aid gripping. This bare patch is known as a "friction pad."

Mammals

  • New World Monkeys. Many New World monkeys in the family Atelidae
    Atelidae
    Atelidae is one of the five families of New World monkeys now recognised. It was formerly included in the family Cebidae. Atelids are generally larger monkeys; the family includes the howler, spider, woolly and woolly spider monkeys...

    , which includes howler monkey
    Howler monkey
    Howler monkeys are among the largest of the New World monkeys. Fifteen species are currently recognised. Previously classified in the family Cebidae, they are now placed in the family Atelidae. These monkeys are native to South and Central American forests...

    s, spider monkey
    Spider monkey
    Spider monkeys of the genus Ateles are New World monkeys in the subfamily Atelinae, family Atelidae. Like other atelines, they are found in tropical forests of Central and South America, from southern Mexico to Brazil...

    s and woolly monkey
    Woolly monkey
    The woolly monkeys are the genus Lagothrix of New World monkeys, usually placed in the family Atelidae.There are four species of woolly monkey. All originate from the rainforests of South America...

    s, have grasping tails often with a bare tactile pad
    Tactile pad
    A tactile pad is an area of skin that is particularly sensitive to pressure, temperature, or pain. Tactile pads are characterized by high concentrations of free nerve endings. In primates, the last phalanges in the fingers and toes have tactile pads, allowing very accurate manipulation of objects....

    . This is in contrast with their distant Old World monkey
    Old World monkey
    The Old World monkeys or Cercopithecidae are a group of primates, falling in the superfamily Cercopithecoidea in the clade Catarrhini. The Old World monkeys are native to Africa and Asia today, inhabiting a range of environments from tropical rain forest to savanna, shrubland and mountainous...

     cousins who do not have prehensile tails.

  • Opossum. A marsupial
    Marsupial
    Marsupials are an infraclass of mammals, characterized by giving birth to relatively undeveloped young. Close to 70% of the 334 extant species occur in Australia, New Guinea, and nearby islands, with the remaining 100 found in the Americas, primarily in South America, but with thirteen in Central...

     group from the Americas
    Americas
    The Americas, or America , are lands in the Western hemisphere, also known as the New World. In English, the plural form the Americas is often used to refer to the landmasses of North America and South America with their associated islands and regions, while the singular form America is primarily...

    . There is anecdotal evidence that opossums may use their prehensile tails to carry nesting material.

  • Binturong
    Binturong
    The Binturong , also known as the Asian Bearcat, the Palawan Bearcat, or simply the Bearcat, is a species of the family Viverridae, which includes the civets and genets. It is the only member of its genus...

    . One of the few Old World
    Old World
    The Old World consists of those parts of the world known to classical antiquity and the European Middle Ages. It is used in the context of, and contrast with, the "New World" ....

     animals with fully prehensile tails, although they use only the tip of the tail.

  • Kinkajou
    Kinkajou
    The kinkajou , also known as the honey bear , is a rainforest mammal of the family Procyonidae related to olingos, coatis, raccoons, and the ringtail and cacomistle. It is the only member of the genus Potos. Kinkajous may be mistaken for ferrets or monkeys, but are not closely related...

    . The kinkajou
    Kinkajou
    The kinkajou , also known as the honey bear , is a rainforest mammal of the family Procyonidae related to olingos, coatis, raccoons, and the ringtail and cacomistle. It is the only member of the genus Potos. Kinkajous may be mistaken for ferrets or monkeys, but are not closely related...

     of South and Central America is the only other animal of the order Carnivora
    Carnivora
    The diverse order Carnivora |Latin]] carō "flesh", + vorāre "to devour") includes over 260 species of placental mammals. Its members are formally referred to as carnivorans, while the word "carnivore" can refer to any meat-eating animal...

    , besides the binturong
    Binturong
    The Binturong , also known as the Asian Bearcat, the Palawan Bearcat, or simply the Bearcat, is a species of the family Viverridae, which includes the civets and genets. It is the only member of its genus...

    , to sport the adaptation.

  • Harvest Mouse. Another old world mammal, the Harvest Mouse (Micromys minutus) also has a fully prehensile tail. Commonly found amongst areas of tall grasses such as cereal crops (particularly wheat and oats), roadside verges, hedgerows, reedbeds, dykes and salt-marshes.

  • Bicolored-spined Porcupine
    Bicolored-spined Porcupine
    The Bicolored-spined Porcupine is a species of rodent in the family Erethizontidae.It is found in Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, and Peru....

     This porcupine, unlike others, has a fully prehensile tail.

  • Tree Pangolin
    Tree pangolin
    The Tree Pangolin is one of eight extant species of pangolin and is native to equatorial Africa. Also known as the White-bellied Pangolin or Three-cusped Pangolin, it is the most common of the African forest pangolins.-Taxonomy:The Tree Pangolin belongs to the subgenus Phataginus and some...

    . One of the few Old World mammals with a fully prehensile tail.

Mammals

  • New World Monkeys. The capuchin monkey
    Capuchin monkey
    The capuchins are New World monkeys of the genus Cebus. The range of capuchin monkeys includes Central America and South America as far south as northern Argentina...

    . It is interesting to note that the capuchin is more than intelligent enough to make full use of its prehensile tail, but since the tail lacks an area of bare skin for a good grip it is only used in climbing and dangling. Other reasons for partial prehensility might include the lack of strength or flexibility in the tail, or simply having no need to manipulate objects with it.

  • Tree porcupines
    New World porcupine
    The New World porcupines, or Erethizontidae, are large arboreal rodents, distinguished by the spiny covering from which they take their name. They inhabit forests and wooded regions across North America, and into northern South America...

    . The 15 species of tree porcupine divided between 3 genera (Coendou, Sphiggurus
    Sphiggurus
    Sphiggurus is a genus of New World porcupine. It contains the following species:*Sphiggurus ichillus - Streaked Dwarf Porcupine*Sphiggurus insidiosus - Bahia Porcupine*Sphiggurus melanurus - Black-tailed Hairy Dwarf Porcupine...

    , and Echinoprocta). They are found in South America, with one species extending to Mexico. All have prehensile tails.

  • Anteaters. Anteaters are found in Central and South America. Three of the four species of anteater, the Silky Anteater
    Silky Anteater
    The Silky Anteater or Pygmy Anteater is a species of anteater from Central and South America, ranging from extreme southern Mexico south to Brazil Delta Amacuro Venezuela and possibly Paraguay...

     and the two species of tamandua, have prehensile tails

  • Rats
    RATS
    RATS may refer to:* RATS , Regression Analysis of Time Series, a statistical package* Rough Auditing Tool for Security, a computer program...

     have been known to be able to wrap the tail around an object after running around it, therefore giving the creature a small bit of balance. They have also been seen to be able to briefly hang off an object, though not for long.

  • Possums. This large, diverse group of 63 species forms the marsupial suborder Phalangeriformes, found in Australia, New Guinea
    New Guinea
    New Guinea is the world's second largest island, after Greenland, covering a land area of 786,000 km2. Located in the southwest Pacific Ocean, it lies geographically to the east of the Malay Archipelago, with which it is sometimes included as part of a greater Indo-Australian Archipelago...

    , and some nearby islands. All members of the suborder have prehensile tails; however, the tails of some members such as the Acrobatidae
    Acrobatidae
    Acrobatidae is a small family of gliding marsupials containing two genera, each with a single species, the Feathertail Glider from Australia and Feather-tailed Possum from New Guinea....

     have only limited prehensile capacity. Notably, all three marsupial glider groups belong to this suborder.

  • Potoroidae
    Potoroidae
    The marsupial family Potoroidae includes the bettongs, potoroos, and two of the rat-kangaroos. All are rabbit-sized, brown, jumping marsupials and resemble a large rodent or a very small wallaby.- Characteristics :...

    . A marsupial group found in Australia that includes the bettongs and the potoroos. They have weakly prehensile tails.

  • Monito del Monte
    Monito del Monte
    The Monito del Monte The Monito del Monte The Monito del Monte (Spanish for "little mountain monkey", Dromiciops gliroides, is a diminutive marsupial native only to southwestern South America (Chile and Argentina). It is the only extant species in the ancient order Microbiotheria, and the sole New...

    . A small South American marsupial with a prehensile tail.

Reptiles

  • Prehensile tailed skink. Several kinds of skink
    Skink
    Skinks are lizards belonging to the family Scincidae. Together with several other lizard families, including Lacertidae , they comprise the superfamily or infraorder Scincomorpha...

     (e.g. Corucia zebrata) have partially prehensile tails.

  • Chameleon
    Chameleon
    Chameleons are a distinctive and highly specialized clade of lizards. They are distinguished by their parrot-like zygodactylous feet, their separately mobile and stereoscopic eyes, their very long, highly modified, and rapidly extrudable tongues, their swaying gait, the possession by many of a...

     lizards.

  • Snakes. Many snake
    Snake
    Snakes are elongate, legless, carnivorous reptiles of the suborder Serpentes that can be distinguished from legless lizards by their lack of eyelids and external ears. Like all squamates, snakes are ectothermic, amniote vertebrates covered in overlapping scales...

    s have prehensile tails. (or a Prehensile body)

  • Crested geckos have prehensile tails


  • Alligator lizard
    Alligator lizard
    Alligator Lizard may refer to one of the following:Species of the genus Elgaria:*Northern Alligator Lizard*Southern Alligator LizardSpecies of the genus Gerrhonotus.Species of the genus Abronia ...

    . Some alligator lizards such as the southern alligator lizard
    Southern Alligator Lizard
    The Southern alligator lizard is a lizard native to the Pacific coast of North America. It is common throughout Southern California and can be found in grasslands, chaparral, and forests as well as urban areas. In dry climates, it is likely to be found in moist areas or near streams. Three...

    , the Texas alligator lizard, and the arboreal alligator lizard
    Abronia (animal)
    The genus Abronia, also known as Arboreal Alligator Lizards, belongs to the family of Anguidae. Members of this genus are found in Central to northeastern South America...

    s (genus Abronia
    Abronia (animal)
    The genus Abronia, also known as Arboreal Alligator Lizards, belongs to the family of Anguidae. Members of this genus are found in Central to northeastern South America...

    ) have prehensile tails.

Amphibians

  • Salamander
    Salamander
    Salamander is a common name of approximately 500 species of amphibians. They are typically characterized by a superficially lizard-like appearance, with their slender bodies, short noses, and long tails. All known fossils and extinct species fall under the order Caudata, while sometimes the extant...

    s. A number of North American forest-dwelling climbing salamander
    Climbing salamander
    Climbing salamanders is the common name for plethodontid salamanders of the genus Aneides. As this name suggests, most of these species have prehensile tails and are as mobile up a tree as in a stream...

    s have prehensile tails that help them climb. Some are from of the genus Aneides such as the Clouded Salamander (Aneides ferreus
    Aneides ferreus
    The Clouded Salamander is a species of salamander in the Plethodontidae family.It is endemic to the United States.Its natural habitat is temperate forests and it is probable that many nest in trees....

    ), the Wandering Salamander
    Wandering Salamander
    The Wandering Salamander is a species of salamander in the Plethodontidae family.It is found in Canada and the United States.Its natural habitat is temperate forests.It is threatened by habitat loss.-Source:...

     (Aneides vagrans), and the Arboreal Salamander (Aneides lugubris
    Aneides lugubris
    Aneides lugubris, the Arboreal salamander, is a species of climbing salamander. It is native to California and Baja California, where it is primarily associated with oak and sycamore woodlands, and thick chaparral.-Description:...

    ). Others are the large Red Hills Salamander
    Red Hills salamander
    The Red Hills Salamander is a fairly large, terrestrial salamander growing to about 255 millimeters. Its body color is gray to brownish without markings, and its limbs are relatively short...

     (Phaeognathus hubrichti) and the Cave Salamander
    Cave salamander
    The Spotted-tail Salamander is a species of cave salamander.-Distribution:This species is found in Illinois, Missouri, Kentucky, Virginia, West Virginia, Oklahoma and Kansas.-Identification:...

     (Eurycea lucifuga). There are also the Central American Bolitoglossa sombra and Mexican and Central American Bolitoglossa mexicana salamanders.

Fish
Fish
Fish are a paraphyletic group of organisms that consist of all gill-bearing aquatic vertebrate animals that lack limbs with digits. Included in this definition are the living hagfish, lampreys, and cartilaginous and bony fish, as well as various extinct related groups...

  • Syngnathidae
    Syngnathidae
    Syngnathidae is a family of fish which includes the seahorses, the pipefishes, and the weedy and leafy sea dragons. The name is derived from Greek, meaning "fused jaw" - syn meaning fused or together, and gnathus meaning jaws. This fused jaw trait is something the entire family has in common...

    . Many species from this group, which includes Seahorse
    Seahorse
    Seahorses compose the fish genus Hippocampus within the family Syngnathidae, in order Syngnathiformes. Syngnathidae also includes the pipefishes. "Hippocampus" comes from the Ancient Greek hippos meaning "horse" and kampos meaning “sea monster”.There are nearly 50 species of seahorse...

    s and Pipefish
    Pipefish
    Pipefishes or pipe-fishes are a subfamily of small fishes, which, together with the seahorses, form the family Syngnathidae.-Anatomy:...

    , have prehensile tails.

External links

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