What if people had tails?
From mermaids to ancient Babylonian people with scorpions, stories of people with tails abound in mythologies from around the world. Often these figures possess some magical power or wisdom beyond the reach of mortals.
But what if people actually had tails? How will the extra appendage change our daily life? And what would they look like?
For some people, this is more than a thought experiment; in rare cases, babies with spina bifida – a condition in which the baby is born with a gap in the spine – or with a malformed coccyx may be born with a vestigial “pseudo-coccyx”. According to research published in the journal, these fleshy growths often contain muscle, connective tissue and blood vessels, but not bone and cartilage. Human pathology (opens in a new tab). They are non-functional and are usually removed soon after birth.
Looking at the man evolutionour distant primate ancestors had some sort of tail. The tails disappeared in our straight line about 25 million years ago, when the apes split off from the apes. Our ancestors may have discarded the extra appendage to save energy and calories when they evolved better bipedal balance. But of course the tailed primates are still around today.
On the topic: Why didn’t all primates turn into humans?
Individual species monkeys native to South and Central America (so-called “New World monkeys,” a phrase coined by European colonizers and later picked up by scientists) have prehensile tails—tails that can grasp objects—that can swing around tree branches and even support their body weight, in accordance with Field Projects International (opens in a new tab), a nonprofit research and education group. But our closest living tailed relatives are the so-called “Old World” monkeys of Africa, Asia and southern Europe, such as baboons and macaques, which use their tails mainly for balance. “None of them have a prehensile tail because it’s a step back in the family tree,” Peter Kappeler (opens in a new tab)evolutionary anthropologist at the University of Göttingen in Germany, told Live Science.
So our tails probably wouldn’t be as sticky. However, Kappeler said, that doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll be useless. A long bushy tail like a macaque can be useful to wrap around for warmth like a built-in scarf. And if we invented hibernation, our tails could come in handy fat storage system (opens in a new tab) (a strategy used by some non-primate mammals such as beavers).
Looking beyond our primate relatives, “there are other tailed bipeds that we model ourselves on,” Jonathan Marks (opens in a new tab), an anthropologist at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, told Live Science. For example, kangaroos have a sturdy tail that they use as a tripod to help support their weight and add strength to their quick stride. Extinct theropod dinosaurs, for example Tyrannosaurus rexhad tough, muscular tails that may have acted as rudders as they ran.
However, having a tail like one of these creatures would change our step. For example, a T. rex-tail style made us lean forward at the hips, keeping our chest parallel to the ground instead of vertical. A kangaroo’s tail will be difficult to maneuver without bouncing – otherwise it will drag annoyingly on the ground. “It’s a completely different way of getting around,” Marks said.
And, Marks noted, it can be difficult to avoid inadvertent tail damage during everyday life. Like anyone a cat The owner knows that longtails often get stepped on or have doors accidentally closed. Meanwhile, because of the short tails, it would be difficult to sit in a chair without some modifications. “Obviously, if we had tails, we’d have to redo the car seats and the bathing suits,” Marks said.
Given the human desire to adorn oneself, ponytails can (and probably will) open up many new fashion possibilities. Michelle Langley, an archaeologist at Griffith University in Australia, writes in Conversation (opens in a new tab). It’s easy to imagine our ancestors designing accessories like tail rings, tail warmers, or even tail nets along with trinkets like necklaces and earrings.
But for Marks, the possibilities of fashion don’t ultimately outweigh the inconveniences: “I think it would be a real pain.”