Have you ever seen an animal use its tail to grip onto branches like an extra hand? Some creatures have prehensile tails that allow them to grasp and hold objects. Read on to learn about 10 cool animals with grasping tails that function like an extra appendage.
The kinkajou is a rainforest mammal found in Central and South America. With its slender 2 ft long body, the kinkajou resembles a monkey. But it’s actually related to raccoons! The kinkajou uses its gripping tail like a fifth hand. Its tail is just as flexible and nimble as its other limbs.
Kinkajous sleep during the day curled up in tree hollows. At night they wake to prowl the rainforest canopy. You’ll often see them hanging upside down from branches by their tails as they stretch to pick fruit. Kinkajous use their nimble tails to twist off ripe mangoes and bananas. Their tails also come in handy for climbing and balancing in the trees.
The prehensile-tailed porcupine lives in forests in South America. It has a rat-like appearance with large front teeth for gnawing. But on its hind end, it sports a long prehensile tail. The porcupine’s tail works like a gripper, allowing it to clasp branches as it climbs.
Prehensile-tailed porcupines are mostly vegetarians. At night they venture out seeking fruits, leaves and bark to eat. As they forage in the trees, their tails help anchor them in place. They’ll freeze and grip the branch tightly with their tails if danger approaches. Staying entirely still helps them blend into the foliage to avoid predators.
The binturong may look like a small bear but is related to civets. This shaggy forest-dweller is native to Southeast Asia. With its thick tail that’s nearly as long as its body, the binturong is perfectly adapted for an arboreal lifestyle.
As binturongs climb trees seeking birds’ eggs and fruit, their prehensile tails act as an extra limb. They coil their tails around branches for balance and stability. Binturongs even hang suspended solely by their tails to reach the food! Their clutches are so tight it takes effort to uncurl their tails. The strength and skill of their tails allow binturongs to thrive in the canopy.
The monkey-tailed skink is a lizard found in Australia. It gets its name from its unique prehensile tail that it uses to aid in climbing. The underside of the skink’s tail has special scales that create friction, allowing it to grasp branches firmly.
Skinks are normally ground-dwellers, but the monkey-tailed is semi-arboreal due to its specialized tail. As it climbs up trees and vines, the monkey-tailed skink stabilizes itself by coiling its tail securely around branches. It can even dangle by just hanging onto branches with its tail! The gripper tail helps this lizard thrive in forest and shrub habitats.
In the tropical forests of Brazil lives the Brazilian porcupine. It’s the largest rodent in South America and has an unmistakable prehensile tail. With its sturdy tail nearly as long as its body, this porcupine is built for climbing.
The Brazilian porcupine grips branches tightly with its tail as it ascends trees at night, seeking fruit and twigs to eat. Its tail helps provide support and balance as it navigates the forest canopy. The porcupine even uses its tail to hang suspended from limbs while foraging. The Brazilian porcupine’s nimble, grasping tail is essential to its arboreal lifestyle.
Black-Handed Spider Monkey
The black-handed spider monkey is swinging through the upper reaches of the rainforest canopy. It’s one of South and Central America’s largest and most agile monkeys. Its long prehensile tail is a perfect adaptation for an arboreal life.
A spider monkey’s tail works like a fifth limb. The strong, flexible tail functions as an extra hand for grabbing branches. As spider monkeys brachiate through the trees, they anchor themselves using their tails. Their tails also aid in suspension as they reach for fruit and nuts. The spider monkey’s grippy tail even enables them to hang upside down from its tail alone!
Eurasian Harvest Mouse
The tiny Eurasian harvest mouse weighs just a few grams. But don’t underestimate this small creature – its prehensile tail acts like a leg to aid its climbing. Found throughout Europe and Asia in fields and forests, the harvest mouse nests in grass but often ventures into bushes and trees.
As it scrambles up stalks and branches, the harvest mouse uses its long tail for balance and stability. It has a cartilage core that runs through its tail, giving it the flexibility to coil securely around plant stems. The harvest mouse can dangle fully suspended from vegetation by its tail alone. Its acrobatic tail allows this tiny mouse to live an arboreal lifestyle.
Virginia opossums can be found throughout North and Central America. They’re the only marsupial found north of Mexico. An opossum’s prehensile tail is naked and rat-like, but don’t be fooled. It’s a grippy appendage part of this animal’s climbing arsenal.
Opossums are adaptable and make their homes in forests, fields and cities. You may see one scaling a tree at night to raid a bird’s nest for eggs. Or spy an opossum climbing down a city building by grasping window ledges with its tail. An opossum’s strong, wrap-around tail gives it excellent climbing and hanging ability.
The southern tamandua is a tree-dwelling anteater found in South America. It uses its thick, prehensile tail as a third “hand” when climbing. The tamandua’s tail is equipped with hairless pads for excellent grip.
As it slowly climbs through branches sniffing out ants and termites, the tamandua firmly grasps limbs with its tail. Its tail helps provide stability and support on vertical trunks and in the canopy.
The Indian pangolin is a unique creature covered in overlapping scales. It’s the only scaly mammal on Earth! Found throughout South Asia, this anteater uses its long, prehensile tail to help it climb trees.
Pangolins use their sharp claws to dig into bark and grip branches as they climb. But their tails provide crucial support too. A pangolin can hang suspended solely from its tail for extended periods. The prehensile tails of pangolins act as a fifth limb, enabling them to hunt for ants and termites in trees as well as on the ground.