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Tail is not everything!

What is a tail for a cat? Most people think tail is the most important organ for balancing. However cats do quite well when their tail is traumatized or it's amputated - wholly or partly. They excellently climb the trees and walk on fences - in the same way, as do the cats that have a tail!

The reverse of the medal: turn to the article by Kenneth Anderson "Cat Anatomy" published in "Cat Catalogue; Packed book about cats" and you'll find out that tail is a very organ and helps balance the body while climbing, jumping and during the mysterious trick of "self-regulation" that a cat does if falls down.

Yet Dr. Gordon Robinson, Dr. of veterinary sciences, the head of the Surgery Department of the Henry Berg's hospital (New York) asserts: "I'm not sure that the remark that cats use their tale to straiten their body out is true". Dr. Robinson, who appropriately named this fall-down the traumatic fall-down syndrome, reports that if one takes a cat without tail and turns it upside down, and then release it, the animal will straighten itself before touching the floor, though it was less then two meters up.

However long tail may probably help a cat keep balance during quick turning. But as a whole cat's balance also depends on some other factors. According to Elwin and Virginia Silverstane in their book "Cat and everything about them" "joints in their limbs constructed in such way that limbs can rotate more easily then in human arms and legs. When a cat walks its' fore limbs move inside, so the prints of left and right legs represent straight lines, and fore limbs (or rather their prints) coincide with hind limbs. Though hind limbs don't make such pronounced movements inside, a very small foothold is needed so as hind limbs not to have problems with support. This helps a cat to move on the fence or a brunch of tree easily".

Hence, tail is not that enough when it's a question of high-quality balance!

At least absolutely tailless cats from Maine Island don't worry about loss of the long appendage! They tell several stories on Maine Island that explain the reason because local cats have lost their tails. One of them is that Irish warriors used to decorate their helmets with cat tails. Cats-mothers, fearing that their kittens would be killed for the sake of caprices of worriers, bit off kittens tails right after their birth!

And one more legend: cat from Maine Island with stump instead of tail and bouncing walk is a result of love between cat and rabbit. No doubt, these are very funny stories. Yet, in fact "tailessness" is caused by genetic reasons exclusively.

How then tailless cats can communicate without tail with each other? Susan Huffier, the president of Californian Animal Fund of Morris and fancier and selectionist of cats from Maine Island (she has 10 Maine cats and one Kimrish) says the following: "My cats from Maine Island think with the head and not the tail!" She considers that we communicate with each other and express ourselves quite well without tail, why then her cats can't do this?! She explains with conviction that cats from Maine Island don't bother about the thing, which they never need. "Tail is only a appendix, they never mind".

But there's the fact that a tail is something like a model to express oneself, how then tailless cats compensate the lack of this model? "They don't compensate, - objects Dr. Michael Fox, - their signal repertoire is considerably reduced. It is the same as if a man who uses gestures to communicate has no fingers! This is a defect. An essential element of communication is lost".

It's true, tail is a very important model in cat's expression, but much important are the expressions themselves: talks by means of tongue, head, ears, eyes, paws, nose, whiskers and sounds. After all, cat communicates not only with tail, and because many numerous messages expressed by our cats, we should easily understand a tailless cat also, if we are interested in this! Debra Pirotine and Sherry Suibe Coen, the authors of the book "There're no bad cats" describe different ways of talk by means of tail. For example, when tail bristles up that means anger.

Another example of self-expression of tailless cats is expression of fear. As authors assert, when a cat is frightened it lifts the tail down between hind limbs. Authors remark that wide-opened eyes express fear as well.

But how will we know if our cats are satisfied or not, if there's no tail? As Carl van Vekhten in his book "Tiger in the house" told a high-up tail of a cat means dignity or satisfaction. How does the tailless cat behave itself when feels nice and satisfied? NO doubt, it's easy to understand if a cat is relaxed and happy: ears are raised a little in expect, pads of paws now compress and now release, an animal purrs - even tailless cats are able to show such clear signs! Thus it's easy to imagine that for countless numbers of tailless and splendid in their strange beauty cats that are full to the brim in this world there're more important things in life than some tail!

Translated by Tatiana Karpova (Moscow)
(MSU, Biology faculture, Dep. zoology and ecology).