by, Jo Carol Hebert
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- A tale can be a little story
- A tail can be the fur on the rear-end of an animal
Tale and Tail are homonyms. They are words that sound alike but are spelled differently.
A Squirrel’s Tail
The bushy fur on a squirrel’s rump (rear-end) is more than just a cute fluff of hair. Although, without it, he would just look like his less attractive cousin, the Rat.
A Tail for Three Reasons
The squirrel uses its tail for three main reasons:
With all his climbing and jumping through trees, the squirrel’s tail serves as a balancing tool. Sometimes, they actually lose their grip and go into a ‘free fall’ from the branches. Their tail then acts like a ‘parachute’, slowing down their descent. And, when they do hit the ground, they hit ‘tail-first’, thus cushioning their body from the fall.
Did You Know That Squirrels Swim? This fact is not well known, but they do swim. And when they do swim, the tail functions as a type of ‘rudder,’ balancing and steering them through the water.
Squirrels use their tails as a defensive shield when threatened by numerous predators that enjoy a squirrel at snack-time. Squirrels are busy looking out for cats, owls, foxes, raccoons, weasels, and even snakes. Their tail presents a barrier to ward off the attacker.
In this same protective mode, the tail flicked three quick times warns other squirrels nearby of danger. Also, a fine bushy tail is attractive in the mating season and signals acceptance or rejection of a potential courtship.
Did you know the squirrel’s tail serves as a kind of ‘weather umbrella?’ The appendage can cover the squirrel from rain or wrap around the creature like a blanket in winter.
No Tail? No Problem
Squirrels can survive well, if, unfortunately, they lose their tail, but life will be more of a challenge.
The Other Tale of a Squirrel
If you like squirrels, you might want to read A Squirrel’s Tale, by Beatrice Potter, who also wrote The Tale of Peter Rabbit. Nutkin, is like Peter, a rather delightful, but disobedient character, who gets in a world of trouble.
You can learn a lot from a squirrel. But don’t try to pet him. They do bite! And be sure to look for other ‘Tales About Tails’ in future issues. What animal ‘tails’ would you like to know about?