Also known as an ‘Ounce,’ (scientific name: Panthera uncia), the snow leopard is among the most beautiful cats; due to its unique white and grey/black spots covering its thick body fur.
If you’ve seen these cats in animal-related programs such as the National Geographic show or visited a zoo in Central Asia, where they are present, you may have noted that they often bite their tails whenever they are not on the move.
This article aims to provide comprehensive answers as to why snow leopards bite their tails and inform you of the vital features and characteristics that make them unique.
Why Do Snow Leopards Have Such Long Tails?
Ounces are known to have the longest tail among the cat family in terms of the tail-to-body length ratio. The cat’s tail is almost the same size or slightly longer compared to its body.
The average body length of a mature Ounce is 70-150 cm, while its tail is 80-120 cm long. Let’s take a closer look at the main reasons why they have long tails.
The ounce’s habitat is in higher altitudes that range from 3,000 m to 5,000 m. It’s common for such regions to be cold, with steep and rocky terrain.
Since the cat has short forelegs and long hind limbs, their long bushy tail helps them to achieve a stable balance in these rough terrains. In short, the long tail helps them the same way a tightrope walker uses a long stick to balance and walk on the rope.
When a female ounce is ready to mate, it raises its tail (visible at long distances) and shakes it uniquely to alert and attract potential males.
When a male snow leopard spots it, it understands the message and will approach the female, facilitating the breeding process
The snow leopard’s natural habitat is usually cold and snowy due to the low temperatures associated with high altitudes.
They use their long bushy tail, like a blanket, to wrap/cover their body when resting and sleeping. They have thick fur all over their body, including their tails; hence, it provides an additional warmth source.
To Guide, Communicate, and Play With Its Cubs
A mother uses her tail to guide her cubs whenever they are walking. The cat also uses it to communicate with its offspring by twitching, shaking, or pointing its tail to convey a specific message.
The cubs also play with their mother’s tail when she is resting. It’s also a way to teach them to stay alert to sudden movements and train them to hunt by observing their prey’s behavior.
The tail also plays a vital role when the ounce is hunting. It’s because most of its prey tend to run in a haphazard style in an attempt to trick the cat.
However, the long tail enables it to maintain its speed and balance when chasing the prey, increasing its chances of capturing it. If the cat had a small tail, it would be hard to maintain its pace.
This trick is commonly used by gazelles when lions are chasing them, and it usually works since the King of the Jungle has a small tail, which makes it hard to make sharp corners and immediately turn. Fortunately, the ounce’s long tail assists it in outsmarting its prey
To Express Themselves
Since these cats are solitary animals, they also use their long tails to express their emotions to others. For instance, when a snow leopard feels threatened or angry when another ounce invades its territory, it will raise its tail high enough to express its anger to the rival.
When the intruder sees this, it knows its presence is unwelcome, and if it doesn’t retreat, then fierce combat is expected. When a snow leopard has conceded defeat/surrendered, it will place its tail between its legs to express its fear.
Why Do Snow Leopards Bite Their Tail?
Warm Their Mouth and Nose
Unlike other parts of their bodies, which are covered with thick fur to insulate them from the harsh low temperatures, their noses, and mouths lack fur, exposing them to the cold.
Therefore, to warm these body parts, they often bite their long bushy tails to warm their nose and mouth. As they bite, the fur on the tail will cover the exposed organs from the cold.
A Stress-coping Mechanism
The ounce tends to bite its tail whenever it encounters a difficult or stressful situation. Scientists and researchers believe it’s the cat’s way of relaxing and easing stress.
It may also indicate that they are feeling uncomfortable. This logic makes sense since it’s the same way some people bite their nails whenever they feel stressed or uneasy.
A Source of Entertainment
Apart from stressful conditions and environments, it’s common to spot ounces biting their tails in a joyful mood. It usually happens when they are relaxing; hence it’s a way to avoid boredom.
Wild animal researchers believe that because cubs in captivity often grow up seeing their mother bite her tail, they tend to imitate the habit. The reason justifying this theory is that there are instances where they are spotted biting their tail for no reason.
For instance, they can do it even when the weather is warm, the conditions are not stressful, and the cat is not playing; therefore, the only possible reason is that it may also be an inherited habit.
Do Wild Snow Leopards Bite Their Tails?
Since most of the ounces spotted biting their tails are mostly in captivity, it’s natural to wonder whether wild snow leopards also practice this habit.
Unfortunately, the cat’s secretive, solitary, and elusive character has made it hard for researchers to capture images and videos showing the ounce biting its tail in its natural habitat.
However, it’s safe to conclude that, yes, wild snow leopards bite their tail.
It’s because the factors mentioned above that make the cat perform this habit, in captivity, are also present in the wild.
There are worse low temperatures in their natural habitat, stressful conditions, and high chances of boredom. Cubs can inherit the trait since they see their mothers performing the habit.
The significant length of the cat’s tail and its tail-biting habit are the primary reasons that make these felines unique among the cat family.
It’s essential to note that they are among the endangered species. Therefore, it’s vital for all the governing bodies where these cats are present to take all the necessary measures to preserve them.