Why do turtles have tails?


By Stacey Venzel

A turtle’s tail houses its reproductive organs, so without it, a turtle could not reproduce. Shorter tails are more common than longer tails with some exceptions.

The length of a turtle’s tail is different among species and sexes. Some turtles use the tail to assist with mating and protection.


As the penis is located inside a turtle’s tail, males typically have longer, thicker tails than females. A sharp projection on the end of a male musk turtle’s tail helps the male hold onto the female. Similar to monkeys, sea turtles have a prehensile tail for gripping that is beneficial for staying with the female during copulation. The long tail also blocks other males from getting in the way.


The long, armored tail of a big-headed turtle aids in anchoring the turtle when it walks across slippery rocks. The thick scales on a snapping turtle’s tail offer added protection against predators.


Carl J Franklin, Turtles: An Extraordinary Natural History 245 Million Years in the Making (St. Paul, Voyageur Press, 2007), 18, 22, 118-119.