Kangaroos' Weird Walk Proves Their Tails Are Like A Fifth Leg

July 5, 2014 12:52 PM

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Watch a kangaroo in the Australian outback, and you’ll notice something strange—when they walk, they have five “legs.” As they graze on grasses and shrubs, they place their tails on the ground in time with their front legs, forming a tripodlike arrangement that supports their body while they bring their hind legs forward. Now, a study has shown that kangaroo tails are much more than just a passive crutch; they also play an active role in powering the animals’ unique, five-limbed walk.

This unusual style of movement—called pentapedal, or “five-footed,” locomotion—has long attracted scientific interest. Kangaroo tails have more than 20 highly articulated vertebrae, whereas their legs have only a few long bones. Given these dissimilarities, researchers have traditionally assumed tha...

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