Human tails

A patient came in to see me about an abscess on her lower back. As she lay on her side on the exam table, I examined the area in question. "How long has this been bothering you?" I asked her, as I palpated the abscess. "My tail?" she asked, referring to a thick patch of dark hair a few centimetres higher up on her back. "I was born with it. And it doesn't bother me at all."

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By 1998, there had been 59 cases of human tails reported in the medical literature. True human tails consist of muscle, nerves, blood vessels, fat and connective tissue, and are covered by skin, which may be hairy. True tails result from the persistence of the embryonic tail, which normally lasts for four weeks and disappears as pregnancy progresses.

A pseudotail is a protrusion on the lower back from any other cause, such as a tumour or abnormality of the underlying vertebrae. About 1/3 of reported human tails are pseudotails.

(My patient did not have a tail or a pseudotail, but I wasn't going to argue with her choice of nomenclature for her caudal tuft of hair.)

A true tail can be as long as 13 cm. There have been pseudotails measuring as much as 33 cm.

Some tails can move.

In most cases, the tail is removed surgically at birth. 29% of human tails are associated with other malformations, usually spina bifida, so thorough investigations are necessary.

There are several reports from India of patients with tails who refused surgery because of the positive cultural ramifications. Chandre Oram, an Indian tea estate worker, has a 33-cm tail and is revered as an incarnation of Hanuman, the Hindu monkey god. Little Bajrangbali, pictured below, has a 10-cm tail and is displayed at temples across India.

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Believe me when I tell you that Googling "image human tail" is not for the faint of heart.

Now, I wonder what the likelihood is of being born with a tail and horns?