Our ancestors used their tails to balance, to swing from branches, and to swish around in a quite fetching way. But the appendage disappeared from our lineage about 25 million years ago. How did that happen? A new study, reported on by the New York Times, has potentially revealed the answer.
It seems our taillessness is explained, at least in part, by a mutation in the TBXT gene. It’s okay if that means nothing to you, and please continue reading even if you’re already bored. Bo Xia, a graduate student in stem cell biology at N.Y.U. Grossman School of Medicine and lead author of the study, says he and the study’s co-authors propose the mutation struck an ape about 20 million years ago, and caused the ape to grow either a stumpy tail or no tail at all. It proceeded from there, stretching across time to us humans and our non-swishing coccyx.
(The TBXT mutation is only one piece of the non-tail puzzle, however. Scientists believe there are other answers to be found that explain why the human coccyx is now essentially uniform from person to person; the TBXT mutation, when tested in mice, produced non-uniform results.)
While this eventually, according to the Times, caused our tail muscles to evolve “into a hammock-like mesh across the pelvis” that supports the weight of our gut stuff when we stand up, it is also puzzling because — why would the non-tail apes persevere over the tailed? Didn’t the tail help them? “It’s very confusing why they lost their tail,” Gabrielle Russo, an evolutionary morphologist at Stony Brook University in New York, told the Times. “That’s the next outstanding question: What on earth would the advantage be?”’
And that brings me to the point of my post. Do you wish you had a tail? For me — I don’t think so. I have scoliosis and, although upon close inspection you can see that I am somewhat malformed, most of the issue right now is on the inside of my body. I feel like a tail would reveal it in a more visual way. I don’t need that humiliation. I asked my coworkers what they want a tail, though, and here’s what they said:
“No. I'm very comfortable sitting exactly the way I am right now.” — Allie Jones
“I wish I had a tail, but I’d want to live in a world where nobody would be grossed out by it. I think the ideal scenario would be having a functional tail that could grab things, or give me some type of better balance, or make me hotter.” — Sarah Hagi
“Yes, it would be nice for me to have another appendage to manicure and groom. I like biding my time on earth with things like that. I also think it would make Pure Barre and yoga classes easier. I'd have to think about the sex aspect of it.” — Claire Carusillo
“I think a tail would be cool only if every human had a tail, mostly because I wouldn't want to have to buy/make special pants. But if all of the pants I bought had a little hole for my tail (or would tails be explicit and kept inside the fabric?) I think it would be a pretty handy tool. Especially when you're cooking and trying to do a lot of things at once.” — Olivia Craighead
“I would like a tail but only if it's prehensile because that seems quite practical. Could hold my phone with it while I make my stupid little dinners, for example.” — Brandy Jensen
“I would like a tail (in a cool way) because they can be used for so many things. Imagine how much better a person could balance with a tail. Or you could hold an extra grocery bag or something. Or what if you had a scorpion tail, that would be crazy.” — Jack Koloskus
“No, the thought scares me. Too many loose appendages. That said, I wouldn't mind switching out the human nose for a multi-functional elephant trunk.” — Jenny Zhang
“I don't wish humans still had tails — I feel like they would get really confusing if you're a person who sleeps with men. I also think a human tail would be so rat-like, all covered in skin and presumably not fur (except perhaps for the more virile and hairy among us). But I would take a cute tail. I have always thought of Mew 2 from Pokémon as an empowered, strong, sexual being.” — Jocelyn Silver
“hmm I prefer my hammock-like mesh” — Tarpley Hitt
"Yes. I would love a little bunny tail." — Leah Finnegan
“This question reminds me of the movie Splice, in which Adrien Brody and Sarah Polley use DNA splicing to make a human-animal hybrid — who has a tail! Her name is Dren (chic), and let’s just say she is TROUBLE. Without spoiling the film, my answer is I do not want to be like Dren.” — George Civeris
Fascinating. How about you? Do you want a tail or not? Please think about it and post your answer on social media.