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Prehensility is the quality of an appendage or organ that has adapted for grasping or holding. The word is derived from the Latin term prehendere, meaning "to grasp". The ability to grasp is likely derived from a number of different origins. The most common are tree-climbing and the need to manipulate food.
Appendages that can become prehensile include:
- The hands of primates are all prehensile to varying degrees
- Prehensile feet:
- Prehensile tails – New World monkeys have prehensile tails, as do many extant lizards (geckos, chameleons, and a species of skink). Seahorses grip seaweed with their tails. Several fossil animals have been interpreted as having prehensile tails, including several Late Triassic drepanosaurs, and possibly the Late Permian synapsid Suminia.
- Tongue – of giraffes in particular
- Nose – elephants, tapirs
- Lips[clarification needed] – lake sturgeon, orangutans, horses and rhinos
- Cephalopod arm – arms such as those of octopuses
- Upper lip, such as that of the West Indian manatee
Prehensility affords animals a great natural advantage in manipulating their environment for feeding, climbing, digging, and defense. It enables many animals, such as primates, to use tools to complete tasks that would otherwise be impossible without highly specialized anatomy. For example, chimpanzees have the ability to use sticks to obtain termites and grubs in a manner similar to human fishing. However, not all prehensile organs are applied to tool use; the giraffe tongue, for instance, is instead used in feeding and self-cleaning.
- Böhmer, Christine; Fabre, Anne-Claire; Taverne, Maxime; Herbin, Marc; Peigné, Stéphane; Herrel, Anthony (2019-04-27). "Functional relationship between myology and ecology in carnivores: do forelimb muscles reflect adaptations to prehension?". Biological Journal of the Linnean Society. 127 (3): 661–680. doi:10.1093/biolinnean/blz036. ISSN 0024-4066.
- Silvio Renesto, Justin A. Spielmann, Spencer G. Lucas, and Giorgio Tarditi Spagnoli. (2010). The taxonomy and paleobiology of the Late Triassic (Carnian-Norian: Adamanian-Apachean) drepanosaurs (Diapsida: Archosauromorpha: Drepanosauromorpha). New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science Bulletin. 46:1–81
- Jörg Fröbisch and Robert R. Reisz. (2009). The Late Permian herbivore Suminia and the early evolution of arboreality in terrestrial vertebrate ecosystems. Proceedings of the Royal Society B. Online First doi:10.1098/rspb.2009.0911