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Sammy's Shelf
November 2011:
A Wonderful Tale of Slender, Bushy, and Sometimes Dangerous Tails!

Not everyone has one, but for those of us lucky enough to sport a tail there's something very special about being able to make a statement with the swish or twitch of one’s rear appendage.

Animal Tails (Early Light Books/Charlesbridge. ISBN: 9780979745584) by Beth Fielding sheds light on the many types of tails you'll find in the animal world and how they are used. As you page through this well illustrated book you'll discover scaled, rattling, swatting, swimming, spraying, warning, wagging, cooling, balancing, and upside-down tails. This is not a situation, quite obviously, where one size fits all!

In some instances you'll discover that some of the largest animals have the smallest tails. Consider the elephant, the giraffe, the pig, deer and armadillo. None of them have much of a tail. If they have tuffs on the end of them, these critters use their tails to swat away insects. Watch an elephant, giraffe, horse, cow or lion and you'll see what I mean.

Now, other animals, like the kangaroo, have super long tails which they use for balance. Given how he is constructed, without that long tail a kangaroo would probably topple right over on his face.

Other long tails are used for balance and grasping things. Take monkeys and lemurs, for example. Their tails are like extra hands that allow them to swing through high branches on trees.

Tails are also very helpful if you are trying to communicate with other animals. Squirrels flip their bushy tails back and forth and up and down when they are chattering at a trespasser and insisting the miscreant move on. Rattlesnakes use their tails to let someone know they don't want to be messed with. Dogs and pigs love to wag their tails to let you know they are excited or happy about something.

Now, just in case you weren't sure, let me also stress that intelligent and splendid creatures of my ilk (cats in other words) use our tails in many different ways. Since we are complex and very sophisticated, we naturally use our tails to convey our sentiments.

Naturally I rely on my beautiful tail for balance when I jump up on the kitchen counter to check for scraps of people food. When I climb up a tree or the bookcase in the family room, I also rely on my tail to keep me centered.

If I am playing or stalking a dangerous creature like a mouse or bug, you'll see my tail twitch, which means I am about to pounce. I also swish my tail back and forth when annoyed, so please watch yourself if you are teasing me and you notice this behavior.

I have scent glands on my tail which means that when I rub my tail against furniture, doorways and your leg, I am marking it and declaring that this is MY TERRITORY or this person BELONGS TO ME!

If you want to learn more about tails and how animals use them this is an excellent book that will give you all sorts of fascinating information. Besides the creatures I already mentioned, there are twisty, tantalizing tidbits about chameleons, birds, whales, stingrays, alligators, scorpions, seahorses, and peacocks.

There are even a few experiments you can try to learn more about how tails work, and special highlighted sections that share unusual facts about tails. Did you know that a rattlesnake's rattle is made from keratin, just like your fingernails? Or that cheetahs use their long tails to change direction quickly?

I thought this book was really fun to read. I know children will love it because it has a lot of neat pictures and interesting material in it. Finally, I caught my person thumbing through it, so I think big people will like Animal Tails too.
Sammy shares living quarters with Bob Walch. Not only does Bob provide the basic essentials for this loquacious feline but he occasionally offers editorial assistance. Find more of the Maine Coon's musings at
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