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A limb is a jointed, muscled appendage of a tetrapod used for terrestrial locomotion. Tetrapods use limbs for weight-bearing and actions such as walking, running and jumping, swimming, grasping and climbing. The distalmost portion of a limb is known as its extremity. The limbs' bony endoskeleton, known as the appendicular skeleton, is homologous among all tetrapods.

All tetrapods have four limbs that are organized into two bilaterally symmetrical pairs, with one pair at each end of the torso. The cranial pair (closer to the head) are known as the forelimbs or front legs, and the caudal pair (closer to the lower end) are the hindlimbs or back legs. In animals with more bipedal posture (mainly hominid primates, particularly humans), the forelimbs and hindlimbs are often called upper and lower limbs, respectively. The fore-/upper limbs are connected to the thoracic cage via the shoulder girdles, and the hind-/lower limbs are connected to the pelvis via the hip joints.[1] Many animals, especially the arboreal species, have prehensile forelimbs adapted for grasping and climbing, while some (birds and bats) have expanded forelimbs (and sometimes hindlimbs as well) with specialized feathers or membranes to achieve lift and fly. Some animals (mostly primates) can also use hindlimbs for grasping.

In human anatomy, the upper and lower limbs are commonly known as the arms and legs respectively, although in academic usage, these terms refer specifically to the upper arm and lower leg. The human arms have relatively great ranges of motion and are highly adapted for grasping and for carrying objects. The extremity of each arm, known as the hand, specializes in intrinsic and digital fine motor skills for precise manipulation of objects. The human legs and their extremities — the feet — are specialized for bipedal locomotion. Compared to most other mammals that walk and run on all four limbs, human limbs are proportionally weaker but very mobile and versatile, and the unique dexterity of the human upper extremities allows them to make sophisticated tools and machines that compensate for the lack of physical strength and endurance.[2]


Limb comes from the Old English lim, meaning "body part".

The overall patterns of the forelimbs and hindlimbs are so similar ancestrally, and branch out in similar ways; that they are given shared names.[3] Limbs are attached to the pectoral girdle or pelvic girdle.


Main article: Limb development

Limb development is controlled by Hox genes. All jawed vertebrates surveyed so far organize their developing limb buds in a similar way. Growth occurs from proximal to distal part of the limb. On the distal end, the differentiation of skeletal elements occurs in an apical ectodermal ridge (AER) which expands in rays. A Zone of Polarizing Activity (ZPA) at the rear part of the AER coordinates the differentiation of digits.[3]

See also


  1. ^ "Limb". Retrieved 16 June 2017.
  2. ^ Sustaita, Diego; Pouydebat, Emmanuelle; Manzano, Adriana; Abdala, Virginia; Hertel, Fritz; Herrel, Anthony (2013-01-03). "Getting a grip on tetrapod grasping: Form, function, and evolution". Biological Reviews of the Cambridge Philosophical Society. 88 (2): 380–405. doi:10.1111/brv.12010. PMID 23286759. S2CID 10023388.
  3. ^ a b "GEOL431 - Vertebrate Paleobiology". Retrieved 2019-12-20.