Name That Tail

Got a sharp eye for animal anatomy? Try your identification skills on these wild tails!

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Photos by Jodi Kendall

Think you’ve identified these animal tails correctly? Find out the answers below!


Photo #1: Porcupine
Specifically, the South American prehensile-tailed porcupine. This curled tail – which is covered in the porcupines’ signature quills – functions as an additional appendage. As this spiny species lives almost its entire life in trees, its tail can curl around branches and allow for greater stability and balance.

Photo #2: Whale
The distinctive white coloring of this marine mammals’ tail is a clue that it belongs to one of the smallest whale species, the Beluga. They are powerful swimmers with the ability to swim both forwards and backwards. A Beluga whale’s tail has two flukes or lobes – connected by thick, dense tissue and void of bone – and each fluke’s exact shape is unique to the whale. Veins surrounding the tail flukes’ arteries help the warm-blooded Beluga maintain body temperature in the chilly waters of its native habitat.

Photo #3: Lion
The unique coloring of this African lion’s tail reveals that it carries the white lion
recessive gene. A lion’s tail averages about three feet in length, and these big, social cats enjoy increased steadiness, speed, and strength thanks to their long, furry tail. Additionally, lions use their tails as a means of communication.

Photo #4: Salamander
This tail belongs to America’s largest aquatic salamander, the Eastern hellbender. These creatures dwell in cool-temperature, fast-flowing streams. Adult hellbenders actually breathe oxygen through thousands of capillaries on their camouflage-colored skin, and they have a keeled, photosensitive tail.

Photo #5: Snake
The Timber rattlesnake is a large, multi-colored snake species. An important feature of this pit viper’s blunt, distinctive tail is the rattle itself. Made from horn-like segments, a Timber’s will shake its rattle when disturbed or threatened; However, it can also strike without giving a rattle-sounding warning. This species is particularly vulnerable to illegal sport hunting and capture for private collections.

Photo #6: Wallaby
Bennett’s Wallaby resemble kangaroos, and have a long, tapered tail. This particular species uses its tail for several reasons. First, a male courting a female during breeding season will often swish his tail from side to side. Secondly, thanks to their powerful hind legs and long tail, the Bennett’s Wallaby species can travel up to 30 miles per hour and jump up to six feet high.

Photo #7: Sawfish
The largetooth sawfish might have a shark-like tail, but it actually belongs to the ray family. This species can be found in many parts of the world, including the eastern Pacific and Atlantic Oceans. The largetooth sawfish is a rather slow-swimming marine species, but it has the ability to thrive in salt and freshwater environments with sand or mud floors.

Photo #8: Tiger
The Amur Tiger is the largest of all big cat species, and they are currently listed as critically endangered. Just like human fingerprints, the stripes of a tiger are unique in pattern to each individual animal. An Amur Tiger’s long tail helps with balance, speed and stability, making this big cat one stealth hunter. Did you know that according to the Chinese New Year, 2010 is the Year of the Tiger?

Photo #9: Dove
This tail belongs to a unique avian species, the Luzon bleeding heart dove. Listed as near threatened, these beautiful birds spend most of their time searching for food on the forest floor. The bleeding heart dove has a short, bluish-feathered tail that helps it take flight when escaping predators.

Photo #10: Elephant
Asian elephants have a long tail with a tuft of hair at the end. These highly endangered elephants use their flexible tail to swish away flies and other irritating pests. Asian elephants also use their long tail – along with their ears and trunks – as body language communication with other elephants.

View more animal photo galleries and take some species quizzes.