Do baboons have tails? What do they use it for?

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Do baboons have tails? Do all baboons have tails?

Yes, just like other monkeys baboons too have tails. However, they don’t have a prehensile tail, meaning that they can’t use their tail to curl around the tree branches and grip tightly, and also that they can’t even pick or hold any objects with it.

They make less use of their tail in order to balance their body weight and dynamics while walking, climbing, jumping, etc, and make more use of their limbs to do so.

And yes, both males and females of all baboon species are known to have substantial tails of varying lengths.

The length of their tail can range anywhere between 16 to 23 inches. And, there are some linear measurements of caudal vertebrae (bones that make up the tails) that are unique to baboons that make their tail different from those of the new world monkeys who use their tail to grip and hold onto objects.

They have been also known to harden and show various positions of their tails in order to attract mates.

Female baboons have red swollen bottoms in order to indicate that they are ready to mate and are ovulating or will be ovulating very soon.

And, due to this, they gain patches of red mass and thickened skin around their butt which causes them to raise their tail a bit upward. This also indicates that the females are ready to mate and are now attracting male mates.

A young Chacma baboon, also known as the Cape baboon, was captured while climbing up a tree at Kruger National Park, South Africa

What is prehensile tail? Do baboons have prehensile tails?

What is a prehensile tail? A type of tail that is used for gripping by the animals like monkeys is called the prehensile tail. A prehensile tail simply means a gripping tail and can be used as a fifth limb to grip and hold onto the tree branches.

Fully Prehensile tails are used by many monkeys (for example Howler monkeys) to grip and hold on to the objects, i.e. they use this tail as a fifth limb, and also to balance their body, and dangle from branches.

While many monkeys that have partial prehensile tails only use them to anchor their body to dangle from a branch, or as an aid for climbing and balancing themselves. They cannot use their tails as a fifth limb to grab onto objects so well.


So, Do baboons have prehensile tails? It is to be noted here that Baboons don’t have any kind of a fully prehensile or partially prehensile tail. They have a non-prehensile tail which is non-gripping in nature and doesn’t contribute to gripping, and balancing the body weight much while they are walking, climbing, or doing other body works.

The most preferred habitat of baboons is the savanna forests and other semi-arid habitats.

And, as their habitats have less sparse or less dense forests and vegetation around, so they don’t need much of their tail in order to balance their bodies while jumping from one tree to another, gripping objects with it, and for dangling from the top tree branches.

And so, that’s why their bodies have adapted to not having any kind of a prehensile tail for any such physical activities that are most common in the rainforest type of habitats with dense vegetation.


Why do baboons have tails? And, what do they use their non-prehensile tails for?

Baboons have tails because they are monkeys and that almost all monkeys have tails. They belong to the genus Papio which is one of the 23 genera of Old World monkeys that have non-prehensile tails.

If we see the modern-day classification then it is to be very much clear that all monkeys fall under the Infraorder Simiiformes of Suborder Haplorrhini under the Order Primates.

And that, under the Infraorder Simiiformes they come under Family Cercopithecidae where most of them have tails as these are the Old World Monkeys. Most have tails, but they are not prehensile in nature.

So, it is pretty much clear that Baboons evolved from Simiiformes that include Simians, Anthropoids, or Higher primates, into the present-day Old World Monkeys (Catarrhinis) under the course of evolution for having non-prehensile tails.

Baboons can use their tails to balance their bodies as it swings, climbs and jumps in its habitat.

But, it is also to be noted that, unlike the New World Monkeys baboons cannot use their tails so dedicatedly in balancing their body weight.

Baboons unlike New World Monkeys can’t also use their tails to grip and grasp any objects as well. They also can’t dangle from up the treetops by curling their tail around the top tree branches.

They can also use their tail to show submissive behavior by individually raising up their tail and exposing their genitals to the dominant ones. Their lifted-up tails can also indicate that they are ready to mate.

A dominant baboon can also opt to threaten another submissive baboon by standing on its four limbs and making a silent stare with its mouth being wide open while being accompanied by the base of its tail sticking straight upwards.


EXPLAINED: Many Old World monkeys don’t have Prehensile tails

All Old World Monkeys are included under Family Cercopithecidae of the Infraorder Simiiformes. In simple words, all monkeys that fall under the Family Cercopithecidae are considered Old World Monkeys.

Most of the Old World Monkeys have non-prehensile tails, while a few of them have prehensile tails. Let’s understand this with a few examples.

For example, The Tana River Mangabey monkey (Cercocebus galeritus) is a medium-sized Old World Monkey with a long partially prehensile tail.

On the other hand, Mandrills (Mandrillus sphinx) are those Old World Monkeys that don’t have a noticeable tail and so they have a short tail with being stout-bodied in nature. Their tails are almost negligible and so can be termed as being absent.

Whereas, Baboons are those Old World Monkey species that fall under the Genus Papio that do have a 16 to 23 inches long non-prehensile tail.

Most Old World monkeys have tails as the name of their taxa family Cercopithecidae simply means “tailed apes”, unlike the tailless apes.

The tails of the Old World monkeys are not prehensile, as are those of the New World monkeys (Platyrrhines).

There’s a notable physical difference between New World Monkeys and Old World Monkeys. It’s that all of the New World Monkeys have prehensile tails.

And, on the other hand, all Old World monkeys have tails with some having noticeably absent tails, and with most of them having non-prehensile tails, the few of them having partially prehensile tails, and the least of them having prehensile tails.


Adaptations of baboons for having non-grasping non-prehensile tails

They inhabit semi-arid habitats such as savannas, bushlands, rocky mountains, hilly, rocky desert, steppe, and grassy sub-desert regions. In these regions, there’s a sparse amount of trees as compared to the tropical rainforests.

So, they don’t need any type of prehensile tails in order to jump, swing from tree to tree, and balance their body weight so well, as having a prehensile tail is a common adaptation of most rainforest living monkeys.

Prehensile tails are used to grip, grasp, hold, and manipulate objects when there’s less space available in the tress at the top of the rainforest canopy zone, and so such tails in particular aid the arboreal creatures in finding and eating food on the trees.

So, baboons don’t need any such physical adaptation as they being highly omnivorous can feed on meat, insects, leaves, berries, seeds, flowers, roots, bark both above and below the tree. They mostly eat the food available to them on the ground.

Baboons have a relatively short and tufted tail as compared to their big body. So, their prehensile tail only helps them a little in climbing up the trees by balancing the body weight, and the tail also balances their body while sleeping.

They roam mostly on land and only climb up to the top of a tree in order to sleep and protect themselves from possible predators like lions, leopards, etc. So, they don’t need a prehensile tail to grip and navigate the tall and treacherous canopy in search of fruits and leaves.

They use their prehensile tail as a tool to facilitate interaction with the environment and also as a tool to sometimes attract mates, show dominance, camouflage from behind, and also for the purpose to show navigation to their troops and infants.

Prehensile tails also provide enough grabbing area for their infants to hold on to the adults when they are sitting on top of a tree with a little space around.

Their prehensile tail also increases the surface area of their skin to get rid of the excess body heat by raising the tail hairs along with the body hairs and insulating the body by creating motionless air near the skin’s surface. This is good for thermoregulation as they inhabit some of the semi-arid dry regions on earth.

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