Tale of a tail

Caudal Appendage in Man

Naturalists have up to the present time given little attention to the study of tailed men. Such an organ has simply aroused the curiosity of anyone who has seen a specimen, quite as a bearded woman arouses interest in a dime museum. The works on this subject are very incomplete – a few lines here and there scarcely throwing any light on the subject. There is one monograph on this subject, the monstrosity is seldom found and few of the well-known cases could bear a close scrutiny.

It is not our intention to translate or give an abstract of this German production, but we have the good fortune to be able to reproduce an engraving from two very good photographs taken from life, and we shall accompany them with a few descriptive words. A number of travellers in South Africa have testified to tho existence of men of the Nyams-Nyams tribe who had tails. This may or may not be true. If such is the case, Mr. Quatrefages does not consider that the evidence to that end is very trustworthy, and rather comes to the conclusion that it has not been absolutely proved, although he believes the fact not improbable. Mr. Ecker, on the contrary, after examining this subject thinks that the testimony of explorers is credible. Although there may not be a race of human monkeys, it must be admitted that there are some cases of individuals having a caudal appendage. When I say “some” cases, it should be understood that Pliny and Ptolemy, and after them Marco Polo, Otrup, Maillet, and others, speak of this anomaly and their citations would comprise in all not 15 or 20 cases, but from 150 to 200. The well authenticated cases, however, are very few in number.

Bartels classifies the caudal appendage as follows:

  1. tail connected with body,
  2. tail with free mo/ement,
  3. cutaneous prolongation.

The first includes the triangular base bone unusually developed, which extends to the anus and partially covers it. The second includes those tails that form a sort of projection at the back, and which separate from the body of the sacrum. The third will not be reviewed, as it does not seem necessary, as it could take either of the other forms mentioned, and still be simply a cutaneous prolongation. The specimens already observed enable us to sive a general description, which will be done, however, with due caution. The tail is conical or spherical in shape, rarely cylindrical. The end nearly always curls slightly, and sometimes is twisted like that of a pig. It is seldom more than 3 or 4 in in length. It is sometimes covered, and some times it is quite smooth – In the former case the hair grows in places and resembles somewhat the tail of a cow. Bartels cites, and has shown a case of this kind, while Quatrefages, who lived before his time, had considered this condition as a mere legend. Whether these tails are soft or rigid, they possess in general no movement of their own. This physical peculiarity is usually accompanied with some defect, with atresia ani in particular, and almost always with general constitutional weakness. Such are the general characteristics of this class of monstrosities. Can the cause of this be discovered?  Adhuc sub judice lis est.

Bartels considers that it is due to imperfect development, induced perhaps by inheritance from an ancestral type ; while Quatrefages had not believed in this, but considered that it was caused by some abnormal development in the embryo. It is not for us to decide which theory is to be accepted. It is a curious circumstance, however, that this peculiarity is found principally among the male species. I do not think that the females of the lower order are less favored in this respect than the males. It is also curious that the white races appear not to be privileged in this respect. If we admit that they are a superior race to the others, then perhaps atavism would explain it. In none of the cases that have been examined, however, could vertebrae be found in the tail, while the specimen that was dissected by Virchow simply consisted of fat and muscles. Atavism would explain alone existences of an hereditary monstrosity. The question of heredity was, at an early day, discussed by Mr. de Quatrefages. He came to the conclusion that such an organ, whatever its origin might be, could be transmitted from father to son. Such a conclusion is affirmed in the cases of other monstrosities in which this is found to be the case.

A Moi Boy with Tail 9in Long

The subject of the engraving, however, which we have not as yet described, is a very remarkable case. He is a young Moi, 12 years of age, who was taken to Saigon some time ago, where he was examined and photographed. Although so young his tail was already nearly a foot in length. “With the exception of- its great length this specimen resembled in almost every other respect those that had been examined by Bartels. From the information we have been able to procure, it appears that the organ is soft and smooth, and has no bony frame. Bartels cites only four cases of this kind, while its Cylindrical shape appears to be very rare. We stated above that, as a rule, this peculiarity was accompanied by other malformations, and such is found to be the case in the present instance. By examining the photograph, it will be observed that a small mound or bunch is found upon each buttock. The shoulder blades seem to project abnormally ; but it should be borne in mind that the subject is very thin. The tail seems ordinary and possesses none of the peculiarities described by Mr. De Quatrefages. He describes tails two or three inches in length, while Bartels describes them as 5in, but this young Moi’s tail is about lOin in length. Therefore, up to the present time this is the best specimen on record. This matter ought not to be passed over carelessly, but it merits a thorough and complete investigation and study which should be no longer neglected.

Australian Town and Country Journal (Sydney, NSW : 1870 – 1907), Saturday 31 May 1890, page 28


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