For years, Trevor had a tail. Okay, so it wasn’t a real tail but rather a long pseudo appendage that he incorporated into every aspect of his life. Calling himself the Indigo Monkey, he embodied what it would have been like if evolution had not seen fit to remove our tails. Yet tails aren’t that removed from our lives, even today we have vestiges of them known as the coccyx (no snickering) or more commonly the Tail Bone. I guess since we no longer hang out in trees nature thought it would be prudent to get rid of the pesky things. But why then do we still have a tail bone, why not remove it totally?
Well, above everything we think we are on the outside, on the inside we are Mammals and all Mammals have had a tail at some point. When we are but a tadpole between 31 and 35 days old we have a tail. As the fetus develops the tail is usually absorbed, but not always. Believe it or not there have been 23 recorded cases of people being born with a tail since 1884. Usually very small but there have been exceptions. An Indian man named Chandre Oram has a tail 13 inches long and is thought to be the incarnation of the Monkey God. Unfortunately, being the incarnation of a Monkey God isn’t too good for relationships, as he remains single due to his unusual appendage.
Located at the end of the spine, the tails original purpose was for balance (for that reason alone I wish I still had one). As we got better at standing straight and walking upright its usefulness was diminished. Now it serves only as a convenient place to attach ligaments, tendons, nerves and muscles, which can be attested by anyone who has fallen on their tail bone.
Number two on the list of vestiges that cause us pain is the Appendix; that little organ at the end of our intestines. We could have certainly been able to live without it and in many cases are better off for removing it. But did it ever have, or does it have a purpose? Some say that it had some digestive properties in days gone by, perhaps related to the breaking down of vegetable matter. This line of thinking comes from that fact that more herbivores have appendixes than carnivores, although they do exist in both species.
Research suggests that the Appendix may have developed a new purpose; that of repopulating the intestinal flora after an illness, poisoning or round of antibiotic therapy. These conditions deplete the good bacteria in the gut and colon. A new batch of healthy flora can then be introduced from the appendix, restoring the system to health. If this is the case then the Appendix deserves a bit more respect and it’s classification as Vestigial re-evaluated.
There are many more Vestiges, more than I ever knew, so I will save the lesser-known ones for the continuing Vestigial article and end with one that we have all had to deal with at some time in our lives, Wisdom Teeth.
Called the third molars these teeth are vestiges from our ancestors who had larger jaws because they needed to break down plant fiber before being swallowed because it was difficult to digest. As our jaws became smaller over time due to our change in diet the teeth remained until today they serve little to no purpose except to dentists and their pocketbooks.
Stay tuned, more and stranger Vestiges to come.