I have come across many articles which seem to suggest (but do not explicitly state) that limbs refer to arms and legs. My confusion stems from the fact that does the term vertebrate limb also include vertebrate wings and vertebrate fins or only refer to arms and legs of vertebrates. I would be grateful for clarification.

A simple google definition states that it does include the wings of birds however I would like to know if this is also the case in evolutionary biology or not.

I also refer you to this article Yano, T., & Tamura, K. (2013). The making of differences between fins and limbs. Journal of Anatomy, 222(1), 100–113. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3552418/

Are vertebrate wings and fins considered vertebrate limbs?

Based on other articles I have read wings are included in the definition of limbs but I am not sure whether fins are included.


1 Answer 1


There is no alternative definition of "limb" in evolutionary biology. Legs, arms, wings and fins are all limbs. Note that a prehensile tail can also be called a limb. From wikipedia > limb

A limb (from the Old English lim), or extremity, is a jointed, or prehensile (as octopus arms or new world monkey tails), appendage of the human or other animal body.

You can have a look at Cohn et al. (1997), where the term limb is used to refer to legs, arms, wings and fins.

Apparently some authors (as OP has shown examples in the comments) use the term differently. I think it is always made clear so as to not yield to any possible confusion. If you've ever been confused, you might want to let us know which article got you confused.

  • $\begingroup$ This article seems to suggest otherwise: ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2408990 . The title clearly implies that fins and limbs are different $\endgroup$
    – J.Doe1
    Nov 2, 2017 at 23:19
  • $\begingroup$ It is a book review, not a peer reviewed article. This book review indeed uses the term differently. I think it should not yield to confusion about the meaning of what is said or does it? If anyone use the term differently (as it si the case in this book review), hopefully it should be clear enough as to not yield to any possible confusion. If you've ever been confused, you might want to let us know which article got you confused. $\endgroup$
    – Remi.b
    Nov 2, 2017 at 23:54
  • $\begingroup$ nature.com/nature/journal/v466/n7303/pdf/nature09137.pdf This article again implies that there's a difference between fins and limbs. Zhang et al. (2010) Loss of fish actinotrichia proteins and the fin-to-limb transition. doi:10.1038/nature09137 $\endgroup$
    – J.Doe1
    Nov 3, 2017 at 0:36
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Remi is right, authors are free to use limb how they please. Note nature articles are prone to imprecise language becasue they are written with a wider audience in mind. In the last case the author is using limb as short hand becasue writing "non-fin limb" each time starts to get grammatically messy. $\endgroup$
    – John
    Nov 3, 2017 at 4:16
  • $\begingroup$ In the article you link, they are clearly using the term 'limb' as excluding fins. It looks like the expression limb-to-fins is quite leading many authors to exclude fins from the term of limbs. I don't think this yield to any confusion though, does it? You will just have to accept that different authors may use different definitions $\endgroup$
    – Remi.b
    Nov 3, 2017 at 18:11

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