The Prehensile Tail

by, Jo Carol Hebert

How many of these animals have ‘prehensile’ tails?

  1. Opossums          2. Monkeys           3. Seahorses

(This is a tricky question). You probably knew about monkeys, and maybe opossums. Now you know that all three of these very different species have prehensile tails. Opossums, Monkeys, and Seahorses, too! 

Are you curious?  

Maybe, you are a future Zoo-Keeper, or a Veterinarian. Maybe, you are just a ‘smarty-pants’ and you just love to learn!  

Read-on to discover this ‘cool-to-know-info’.

What you know is more fun to know when you share it with a friend.

What is a Prehensile Tail?

A  t a i l  is an animal’s rear-end extension. The word, P r e h e n s i l e  means ‘able to grasp.’ Animals with prehensile tails can grasp and hold on to objects.

Monkey Business

download (11)Monkeys are the winners in the ‘most prehensile, best tail-gripper’ contest. The long, curling tails of the Howlers, Spider, Woolly, and Squirrel monkeys of South America are fully prehensile. 

Their tail is totally like an extra hand or arm. With this super-power, they can perform dazzling and daring trapeze acts high above in the dense canopies of their tropical forest homes. They mock the hungry Jaguars prowling around on the forest floor below, chattering,  

“You can’t catch me! You can’t catch me!”

Other Monkey Tails

Now, the monkeys in the jungles of Africa and SouthEast Asia have only a ‘partial’ imagesprehensile tail. Perhaps because the canopies of their habitats are less dense. These monkeys seem to lunge, leap, and glide between branches. 

Strong dextrous little paws grip tightly as they travel through the treetops. The long tail helps provides balance and coordination as they fly through the treetops above the always hungry tigers below.

Hanging In There

download (16)The Opossum is the only marsupial animal (with a pouch) that is native to the Americas. It’s long, pink, fully prehensile tail can wrap around limbs of trees and support their body while they hang upside down – for a short period of time.

Baby opossums (up to 25 newborns) can hang out with mom, too. The babies can hang longer because they have less body weight to support.

Did You Know These Animals Have Prehensile Tails?

  1. Tree pangolin of tropical Central Africa
  2. Tamandua, tree-dweller’ of the wet forests of Central America
  3. Tiny Harvest Mouse of Europe and Asia
  4. Some North American reptile salamanders and skinks

Only Two Carnivores Have Grasping Tails

download (17)


The cute little, raccoon-like, tree-loving Kinkajou of South and Central America has a short, fully furry, and prehensile tail.

And the 40-pound Binturong, creeping along the branches of rainforests in South and SouthEast Asia, has a bushy, prehensile tail.

All tree-climbers with prehensile tails use this extension for gripping and holding on while traveling or reaching out for food.

What Can We Learn From a Seahorse?

“See the Seahorse?”  

This weird and wonderful ocean creature has a fully prehensile ‘body’, which is all head giphy (10)and tail!  He wraps himself tightly around coral and other stable ocean objects that serve as an anchor. The mystery is that the seahorse can be flexible or rigid.  

Scientists and Engineers are studying this amazing ability of the seahorse to change the tactile structure of its body. They want to learn how to develop a man-made material that has the properties of both rigidity and flexibility.

Did You Know?

  • The Howler monkey’s tail is 3 feet long
  • An Elephant has a ‘prehensile’ trunk!
  • Cat’s tails are not prehensile
  • Giraffes have prehensile tongues!

Oh, The Wonders of the Animal World!

animated-sea-horse-image-0012If we can learn from a seahorse, then, it’s no ‘wonder’ that we need to find ways to co-habitat and cooperate with the wild elements around us.

Thanks, to all you ‘smarty pants’, who care about protecting and preserving the wildlife of the world!

What other kinds of animal’s tails can you think of? Why don’t you write us a short story – either fiction, or nonfiction, about an animal’s tail?

What animals have bushy tails, short tails, fluffy tails, no tails? We would LOVE to hear YOUR ‘Tale of a Tail!’

Categories: Animals, Tales About Tails

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