Friday, January 15, 2010

Prehensile tails

Yet another word that can be used both literally and figuratively is "prehensile," which can mean "capable of grasping" or "mentally retentive; greedy." The word in the zoological sense was coined in 1758 by French naturalist Buffon (1707-1788). Animals can have a fully prehensile tail that allows them to hold and manipulate objects or a partially prehensile tail with which they can grab branches to aid in climbing. Almost all mammals with prehensile tails are found in North and South America. The mammals of the less dense rainforests of Southeast Asia are mainly gliders. Curiously, Australia and New Guinea contain animals with prehensile tails and gliding animals - and almost all of the gliders are equipped with prehensile tails. Here is the distribution:

New World (North, Central, or South America)
Old World (Africa, Asia)
Animals with partially prehensile tails that can be found worldwide include rats and snakes. The only fish to have (partially) prehensile tails are seahorses and pipefish, also found around the world in tropical and temperate waters.

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