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Do Snakes Have Tails? (Explained)

Although some people are scared of snakes, others adore them and have them as pets. They are fascinating creatures and the more you learn about them, the more you’ll understand why. One question people ask is, do snakes have tails? Since a snake’s body is shaped like a long tail, it can be confusing whether there is a tail section or not. Read on to learn more about snakes and what role, if any, do tails play in their lives.

Do snakes have tails?

Yes, snakes have tails, but the length of their tail varies by species. By definition, the tail is the furthermost point away from the animal’s head and sticks out from the rest of their body. However, with snakes, it can be hard to tell where the snake’s body ends and their tail begins.

To identify a snake’s tail, you have to figure out where their ribs end. Snakes have ribs protecting their vital organs and where their ribs stop is where there are no more organs and where the tail begins. Some snakes have ribs almost to the end of their body, while others have ribs that stop halfway along their body. Looking at a snake’s skeleton will usually make it easier to see where the tail begins.

eastern milk snake | image by Peter Paplanus via Flickr | CC BY 2.0

Why do male snakes have longer tails than females?

Male snakes typically have longer tails than females because of their two sexual organs located at the base of their tails. The larger their tails, the more space they have for these organs and the more likely they will mate successfully. In contrast, female snakes tend to have narrower and shorter tails because they don’t need space for the extra organs.


How snakes use their tails

Since snakes are limbless, they use their tails in ways that other animals use their limbs. For example, their tails can defend them from predators, grab onto things, or help them communicate. Every snake species move their tails in different ways, such as slow waving motions or faster jerking movements.

Here are 3 common ways that snakes use their tails to survive.

1. Some are prehensile

Yes, some snakes do. Prehensile tails mean their tail can intentionally grab objects. Some constrictor snakes will use their tails to snatch and squeeze their prey. While most tree snakes use their tails by grabbing onto branches when climbing to prevent falls.

2. Defense against predators

Raising their tails and rapidly vibrating them is a common defensive response against predators. The flash of color on their tails can disorientate the predators. You can also sometimes see snakes waving their tails in the air while hiding their heads in their bodies. This makes predators focus on the tail and prevents attacks to the snake’s head, which could cause more damage.

Some snake species, such as the Malaysian pipe snake (Cylindrophis rufus) will even strike their tails from side to side to mimic their heads. While other species, such as the red sand boa (Eryx johnii), have tails shaped like their heads, so it looks like they have two heads.

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image by White Sands National Park via Flickr | BY 2.0

3. To lure and catch prey

Some juvenile snakes will use their tails to attract and lure in prey. This is called the caudal lure. Their tails often mimic insect larvae so they can attract amphibians and lizards that eat insects. The spider-tailed horned viper (Pseudocerastes urarachnoides) has long thin scales at the tip of their tails that look like a spider. Once their prey comes in closer to examine the “spider”, the snake attacks.


Can a snake lose its tail?

No, snakes can’t lose their tail and regrow it like some animals such as lizards or skinks. Injury to the tail or tail loss won’t immediately kill a snake, especially since snakes are fast healers. However, it can reduce their chance of survival.

Snakes with lost tails can lose their ability to defend against predators or catch prey for food. Additionally, male snakes with partial tail loss due to predators or other mishaps are known to have less mating success. Overall, however, the impact of the damage depends on how far up the tail the injury occurred and whether the snake species had a longer or shorter tail initially.

Do snakes have stingers in their tails?

No, snakes don’t have stingers in their tails like scorpions do. While a snake’s tail can hurt if you get hit by it or even draw blood if it has a pointy tail, it’s simply the force of the hit causing the pain or injury. Venomous snakes will typically use their fangs to bite and inject venom.

There is a common misunderstanding that all snakes with pointy tails are venomous and potentially have a stinger in their tail. However, this isn’t the case. While most venomous snakes have pointy-tipped tails, some don’t. For example, rattlesnakes have rounded rattles at the end of their tails.


Conclusion

Yes, snakes have tails and different species have different tail lengths and uses for their tails. Some use their tails to confuse predators, while others rely on their tails to climb trees. It can be hard to identify where a snake’s tail begins and you would have to look at its skeleton to really know. However, regardless of how long their tails are, there are no snakes with stingers in their tails.

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