Arthropod leg

Arthropod leg

The arthropod leg is a form of jointed appendage of arthropods, usually used for walking. Many of the terms used for arthropod leg segments are of Latin origin, and may be confused with terms for bones: "coxa" (meaning hip), "trochanter" (compare greater trochanter and lesser trochanter), "femur", "tibia", "tarsus", "ischium", "metatarsus", "carpus", "dactylus" (meaning finger), "patella".

Homologies of leg segments between groups are difficult to prove and are the source of much argument. Some authors posit up to eleven segments per leg for the most recent common ancestor of extant arthropods [cite journal | quotes=no | title=The "Uniramia" do not exist - the ground plan of the Pterygota as revealed by Permian Diaphanopterodea from Russia (Insecta, Paleodictyopteroidea) |author = Kukalova-Peck, J. |journal=Canadian Journal of Zoology - Revue Canadienne de Zoologie |volume=70 |issue=2 |pages=236–255 |year=1992] , but modern arthropods have eight or fewer. It has been argued [cite journal | quotes=no |journal=Biol. J. Linn. Soc. B |author=Fryer, G. |year=1996 |title=Reflections on arthropod evolution |volume=58 |issue=1 |pages=1–55] [cite journal | quotes=no |author = Schram, F. R. & S. Koenemann |title=Developmental genetics and arthropod evolution: part I, on legs |journal=Evolution & Development |volume=3 |issue=5 |pages=343–354 |year=2001 |doi=10.1046/j.1525-142X.2001.01038.x] that the ancestral leg need not have been so complex, and that other events, such as the successive loss of function of a "Hox"-gene could result in parallel gains of leg segments.

Biramous and uniramous

The appendages of arthropods may be either biramous or uniramous. A uniramous limb comprises a single series of segments attached end-to-end. A biramous limb, however, branches into two, and each branch consists of a series of segments attached end-to-end.

The legs of insects and myriapods are uniramous. In crustaceans, the first antennae are uniramous, but the second antennae are biramous, as are the legs in most species.

For a time, possession of uniramous limbs was believed to be a shared, derived character, so uniramous arthropods were grouped into a taxon called Uniramia. It is now believed that several groups of arthropods evolved uniramous limbs independently from ancestors with biramous limbs, so this taxon is no longer used.


Spiders' legs differ from those of insects by the addition of two segments on either side of the tibia, the patella between the femur and the tibia, and the metatarsus (sometimes called basitarsus) between the tibia and the tarsus (sometimes called telotarsus), making a total of seven segments.

The situation is identical in scorpions, but with the addition of a pre-tarsus beyond the tarsus. The claws of the scorpion are not truly legs, but are pedipalps, a different kind of appendage that is also found in spiders and is specialised for predation.

In "Limulus", there are no metatarsi or pretarsi, leaving six segments per leg.


The legs of crustaceans are divided primitively into seven segments, which do not follow the naming system used in the other groups. They are: coxa, basis, ischium, merus, carpus, propodus, and dactylus. In some groups, some of the limb segments may be fused together. The claw of a lobster or crab is formed by the articulation of the dactylus against an outgrowth of the propodus. Crustacean limbs also differ in being biramous, whereas all other extant arthropods have uniramous limbs.


Millipedes, centipedes and their relatives have seven-segmented legs, comprising coxa, trochanter, prefemur, femur, tibia, tarsus, and a tarsal claw.


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