Prehensile tail

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A prehensile tail.

A prehensile tail is the tail of an animal that has adapted to be able to grasp or hold objects.[1] 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, or as an aid for climbing. The term prehensile means "able to grasp" (from the Latin prehendere, to take hold of, to grasp).[2]


One point of interest is the distribution of animals with prehensile tails. The prehensile tail is predominantly a New World adaptation, especially among mammals.[1] Many more animals in South America have prehensile tails than in Africa and Southeast Asia. It has been argued that animals with prehensile tails are more common in South America because the forest there is denser than in Africa or Southeast Asia.[3] In contrast, in less dense forest such as in Southeast Asia it is observed that gliding animals such as colugos or flying snakes are more abundant; few gliding vertebrates are found in South America. South American rainforests also differ by having more lianas, as there are fewer large animals to eat them than in Africa and Asia; the presence of lianas may aid climbers but obstruct gliders.[4] Curiously, Australia-New Guinea contains many mammals 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[edit]

Tails are mostly a feature of vertebrates; however, some invertebrates such as scorpions also have appendages 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."

Animals with fully prehensile tails[edit]


Animals with partially prehensile tails[edit]


A northern Tamandua (Tamandua mexicana) making use of its prehensile tail


Mediterranean chameleon using its prehensile tail




  1. ^ a b c Fleagle, J. G. (1998). Primate Adaptation and Evolution (2nd ed.). Academic Press. p. 172. ISBN 978-0-12-260341-9. 
  2. ^ a b Roze, U. (2012). Porcupines: The Animal Answer Guide. JHU Press. p. 32. ISBN 9781421407357. 
  3. ^ a b Organ, J. M. (2008). The Functional Anatomy of Prehensile and Nonprehensile Tails of the Platyrrhini (Primates) and Procyonidae (Carnivora). Johns Hopkins University. ISBN 9780549312260. 
  4. ^ "Life in the Rainforest". Archived from the original on 2006-05-06. Retrieved 2006-04-15. 
  5. ^ Badger, D. P. (2006). Lizards: A Natural History of Some Uncommon Creatures - Extraordinary Chameleons, Iguanas, Geckos, and More. Voyageur Press. ISBN 9781610604406. 
  6. ^ Naish, D. (2008). "Chinese black rhinos and deinotheres, giant sengis, and yet more new lemurs". ScienceBlogs. Retrieved 2013-04-12. 
  7. ^ Rosamond Gifford Zoo Volunteers (July 23, 2005). "Lined Seahorse". 

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