The tadpole tail fin is a simple double layer of skin overlying loose connective tissue. Collagen fibres in the fin are oriented at approximately +/-45 degrees from the long axis of the tail. Three tests were conducted on samples of the dorsal tail fin from 6-10 Rana catesbeiana tadpoles to establish the fin's viscoelastic properties under (1) large-deformation cyclic loading at 1 and 3 Hz, (2) small-deformation forced vibration at 1 and 3 Hz, and (3) stress relaxation under a 0.1 s loading time. The fin was very fragile, failing easily under tensile loads less than 7 g. It was also strikingly viscoelastic, as demonstrated by 72+/-1 % hysteresis loss (at 3 Hz), 16+/-3 % stress remaining after 100 s of stress relaxation and a phase angle of 18+/-1 degrees in forced vibration. As a consequence of its viscoelastic properties, the fin was three times stiffer in small than in large deformation. This may account for the ability of the fin to stay upright during normal undulatory swimming, despite the absence of any skeletal support. Tadpoles in nature are often found with damaged tails. We suggest that the unusually viscoelastic and fragile nature of the fin helps tadpoles escape the grasp of predators. Because the fin deforms viscoelastically and tears easily, tadpoles can escape predators and survive otherwise lethal attacks with only minor lacerations to the fin. Recent studies have shown that certain tadpoles develop taller fins in the presence of predators. This developmental plasticity is consistent with the tail fin acting as a protective but expendable 'wrap' around the core muscle tissue.