Why Do Rats Have Tails?


Rats are rodents that are medium-sized with long tails. Rats and mice look very similar, and one way to distinguish them is by their size. Rats are much larger than mice. There are two common species of rats; black rats and brown rats. Both have long tails, and they use these in some amazing ways.

Rats have long tails, which help them to keep balance, even when climbing. Rats also use their tail to help them keep cool. Rats cannot sweat, and their tail loses heat from their bodies, stopping their bodies from overheating.

The rat’s long tail has often attracted the interest of many scientists. Scientists conducted various studies to determine how the tail is functional. I have shared all the details in this article.

Rats were natives of northern china but have spread throughout the globe except for Antarctica. In North America, both black and brown rats are common and inhabit almost every region. 

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Rats can be described as opportunistic and are masters of adapting. They can live in almost all habitats, ranging from forests, woodlands, suburban areas, urban areas, and even deserts.

Rats prefer to live close to humans due to the availability of food, water, and shelter.  

Rat

When Does a Rat’s Tail Grow?

Rats are born with a tail, which grows when still in the mother’s womb. When you take a look at the tail of a rat, it seems very simple. However, it is quite an intricate part of the body.

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The tail is an extension of the vertebral column of a rat. In most animals, the vertebra is located on the back and remains on the inside. However, with rats, the rat vertebral column extends right into the tail and projects outside.

There are three layers to the tail. The innermost layer is the core, which is made up of vertebra or bone surrounded by tendons. In between the tendons, various blood vessels run through the entire tail. On the outside, there is a layer of hairless skin. 

What is the Purpose of a Rat’s Tail?

The tail performs two primary functions of thermoregulation and balance. The tail is vital for their survival and is one reason rats can thrive in so many different environments.

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Thermoregulation

A rats tail acts as a thermoregulatory organ. Rats lose heat from their body through the tail. This is vitally important because rats are unable to sweat. The blood vessels in the tail work to control the body temperatures of the rat and the blood vessels can easily adjust to cold and hot weather conditions.

During hot weather, the temperature of the body will rise. This prompts the vessels in the tail to dilate, allowing more blood to the tail. The blood loses most of the heat through the layer of skin on the tail. The blood that flows back to the body is cooler and cools down the rat.

When the temperature is cold, the blood vessels in the tail constrict. As there is less blood flowing towards the tail, the blood is kept in the body, retaining its body heat. By doing this, rats can regulate their temperature and can keep warm.

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Balance

A rat’s tail is also essential to help them maintain balance. If you have ever seen a rat walk along ropes, fences, and wires, it is the tail that helps them balance. A rats tail is the secret to its exceptional balance, especially on narrow surfaces. 

Rat

When a rat is walking along rope, wire, or cable, its center of gravity must be directly above the cable. This prevents it from rotating on top of the cable. In this case, the tail works to increase rotational inertia so that the rat does not end up revolving around the rope. 

Rotational inertia enables this animal to adjust its center of gravity easily. With this, the rat can maintain its perfect balance on various surfaces.

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How Does The Rat’s Tail Help Against Predators?

The rat is such a small creature, which means that it has many potential predators. The rat does not have much of a defense mechanism, and it can be easily hunted.

The tail forms part of its survival and defense mechanism. Rats will use the tail to distract predators. A rat would rather sustain injuries to the tail than the body.  It is also easier for the rat to escape should a predator catch the tail.

At times, a small part or even the entire tail can be cut off by a predator. In these cases, rats can survive without it. The tail is also used as a threat. When a rat comes face to face with a rival, they can lash out the long tail.

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Does a Rat’s Tail Grow Back?

A rat’s tail does not grow back if it is cut away. The tail itself is quite delicate and can easily be removed if the rat pulls away hard enough when the tail is caught.

The tail is an extension of the vertebral column, and this part of the body cannot regenerate. If a part of the tail is severely injured but not completely pulled off, that particular portion will gradually die and eventually fall off. The remaining part heals with time and dries out.

Can a Rat Survive Without its Tail?

Many times, rats get their tail amputated by predators, but they can still survive. 

Although able to adapt, a tailless rat is at a disadvantage to one with a tail.  A rat without a tail will not survive long in the wild because it will become easily susceptible to predators, due to its lack of balance.

A rat may be able to live without a tail, but it will be prone to accidents. This is due to the lack of proper balance. Most of these are challenges that come with the amputation of the tail. However, most rats can adapt and find ways to survive quickly.

The other primary function of the tail is to regulate a rat’s body temperature. A rat without a tail will not lose body heat as effectively as those with a tail. 

Since it lacks a way to regulate temperatures, the rat will have a higher body temperature. Their high body temperatures will take much longer to cool down.

There have been attempts to breed pet rats without tails, but most pet owners do not like rats without tails. These attempts have also been met with objections citing health complications that come with the lack of a tail.

If you want to know why mammals have tails (and we don’t) then click here

Why Do Rats Not Have Fur on Their Tails?

Rats have a hairless tail. The tail does not have fur on it for two reasons. 

The first reason is to allow fast heat loss. The tail helps to control their body temperature. With fur on it, the heat loss process would be much slower and less efficient. The fur on the tail would make the rat overheat very fast.

The tail is also used for grasping and balancing on surfaces. It would be more difficult for a rat to use its tail to hang on objects if the tail had fur. Rats are excellent climbers, and it would be more difficult with a hairy tail as the tail offers a firm grip on objects.

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Why Do Rats Have Long Tails?

On average, the length of a rat’s tail is almost equivalent to its body length. Rats have longer tails when compared to other rodents. The long tail increases the surface area for maximum heat loss.

On occasions, a rat may curl the tail around its body, especially during cold weather, which helps to keep it warm. It is believed the tail’s length is determined by the climatic conditions of their habitat. Rats in hotter regions tend to have longer tails so that they can lose heat quicker.

The tail of a rat may also be longer to increase balance in certain environments. A rat wraps its tail around objects when climbing. A longer tail is more effective and allows for a firm grip. The rat uses its tail to lift itself and reach up to higher surfaces when searching for food.

Are All Rats Born With Tails?

Most rats are born with tails. However, there are some rare cases where a rat is born without a tail. This is often linked to gene mutations and abnormalities. Some offspring born without tails only survive for a couple of days or die at birth. Others make it to adulthood but still face many health conditions. The major challenge is usually regulating their body temperature. 

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Bryan Harding

Bryan has spent his whole life around animals. While loving all animals, Bryan is especially fond of mammals and has studied and worked with them around the world. Not only does Bryan share his knowledge and experience with our readers, but he also serves as owner, editor, and publisher of North American Nature.

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