Digit (anatomy)
A digit is one of several most distal parts of a limb
Limb (anatomy)
A limb is a jointed, or prehensile , appendage of the human or other animal body....

, such as finger
A finger is a limb of the human body and a type of digit, an organ of manipulation and sensation found in the hands of humans and other primates....

s or toe
Toes are the digits of the foot of a tetrapod. Animal species such as cats that walk on their toes are described as being digitigrade. Humans, and other animals that walk on the soles of their feet, are described as being plantigrade; unguligrade animals are those that walk on hooves at the tips of...

s, present in many vertebrate
Vertebrates are animals that are members of the subphylum Vertebrata . Vertebrates are the largest group of chordates, with currently about 58,000 species described. Vertebrates include the jawless fishes, bony fishes, sharks and rays, amphibians, reptiles, mammals, and birds...



Some languages have different names for hand and foot digits (English: respectively "finger
A finger is a limb of the human body and a type of digit, an organ of manipulation and sensation found in the hands of humans and other primates....

" and "toe
Toes are the digits of the foot of a tetrapod. Animal species such as cats that walk on their toes are described as being digitigrade. Humans, and other animals that walk on the soles of their feet, are described as being plantigrade; unguligrade animals are those that walk on hooves at the tips of...

", French: "doigts" and "orteils").

In other languages, e.g. Russian
Russian language
Russian is a Slavic language used primarily in Russia, Belarus, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan. It is an unofficial but widely spoken language in Ukraine, Moldova, Latvia, Turkmenistan and Estonia and, to a lesser extent, the other countries that were once constituent republics...

, Polish
Polish language
Polish is a language of the Lechitic subgroup of West Slavic languages, used throughout Poland and by Polish minorities in other countries...

, Portuguese
Portuguese language
Portuguese is a Romance language that arose in the medieval Kingdom of Galicia, nowadays Galicia and Northern Portugal. The southern part of the Kingdom of Galicia became independent as the County of Portugal in 1095...

, Italian
Italian language
Italian is a Romance language spoken mainly in Europe: Italy, Switzerland, San Marino, Vatican City, by minorities in Malta, Monaco, Croatia, Slovenia, France, Libya, Eritrea, and Somalia, and by immigrant communities in the Americas and Australia...

, Czech
Czech language
Czech is a West Slavic language with about 12 million native speakers; it is the majority language in the Czech Republic and spoken by Czechs worldwide. The language was known as Bohemian in English until the late 19th century...

, Tagalog
Tagalog language
Tagalog is an Austronesian language spoken as a first language by a third of the population of the Philippines and as a second language by most of the rest. It is the first language of the Philippine region IV and of Metro Manila...

, Turkish
Turkish language
Turkish is a language spoken as a native language by over 83 million people worldwide, making it the most commonly spoken of the Turkic languages. Its speakers are located predominantly in Turkey and Northern Cyprus with smaller groups in Iraq, Greece, Bulgaria, the Republic of Macedonia, Kosovo,...

 & Persian
Persian language
Persian is an Iranian language within the Indo-Iranian branch of the Indo-European languages. It is primarily spoken in Iran, Afghanistan, Tajikistan and countries which historically came under Persian influence...

 there are no specific one-word names for fingers and toes; these are called "digit of the hand" or "digit of the foot" instead.

Human digits

Humans normally have five digits on each extremity. Each digit is formed by several bones called phalanges
Phalanx bones
In anatomy, phalanx bones are those that form the fingers and toes. In primates such as humans and monkeys, the thumb and big toe have two phalanges, while the other fingers and toes consist of three. Phalanges are classified as long bones.The phalanges do not have individual names...

, surrounded by soft tissues. Every human finger normally has a nail
Nail (anatomy)
A nail is a horn-like envelope covering the dorsal aspect of the terminal phalanges of fingers and toes in humans, most non-human primates, and a few other mammals. Nails are similar to claws, which are found on numerous other animals....

 on its distal phalanx. There can be polydactyly
Polydactyly or polydactylism , also known as hyperdactyly, is a congenital physical anomaly in humans, dogs, and cats having supernumerary fingers or toes....

 number variation and extra fingers can be useful. In one individual with seven fingers, exploited his extra digits and claimed, they “gave him some advantages in playing the piano.”

Brain representation

Each finger has an orderly somatotopic representation on the cerebral cortex
Cerebral cortex
The cerebral cortex is a sheet of neural tissue that is outermost to the cerebrum of the mammalian brain. It plays a key role in memory, attention, perceptual awareness, thought, language, and consciousness. It is constituted of up to six horizontal layers, each of which has a different...

 in the somatosensory cortex area 3b, part of area 1 and a distributed, overlapping representations in the supplementary motor area
Supplementary motor area
The supplementary motor area is a part of the sensorimotor cerebral cortex . It was included, on purely cytoarchitectonic arguments, in area 6 of Brodmann and the Vogts...

 and primary motor area.

The somatosensory cortex representation of the hand is a dynamic reflection of the fingers on the external hand: in syndactyly
Syndactyly is a condition wherein two or more digits are fused together. It occurs normally in some mammals, such as the siamang and kangaroo, but is an unusual condition in humans.-Classification:...

 people have a clubhand of webbed, shortened fingers. However, not only are the fingers of their hands fused, but the cortical maps of their individual fingers also form a club hand. The fingers can be surgically divided to make a more useful hand. Surgeons did this at the Institute of Reconstructive Plastic Surgery in New York to a 32-year-old man with the initials O. G.. They touching O. G.’s fingers before and after surgery while using MRI brain scans. Before the surgery, the fingers mapped onto his brain were fused close together; afterward, the maps of his individual fingers did indeed separate and take the layout corresponding to a normal hand.


Two ideas about the homology of arms, hands and digits have existed in the past 130 years. First that
digits are unique to tetrapods and second that antecedents were present in the fins of early sarcopterygian fish. Until recently it was concluded that "Both genetic and fossil data support the hypothesis that digits are evolutionary novelties".p. 640.

However new research that has created a three-dimensional reconstruction of a Panderichthys
Panderichthys is a 90–130 cm long fish from the Devonian period 397 million years ago, of Latvia. It is named after the german-baltic palaeontologist Christian Heinrich Pander. It has a large tetrapod-like head...

, a coastal fish from the Devonian
The Devonian is a geologic period and system of the Paleozoic Era spanning from the end of the Silurian Period, about 416.0 ± 2.8 Mya , to the beginning of the Carboniferous Period, about 359.2 ± 2.5 Mya...

 period 385 million years ago, shows that these animals already had many of the homologous
Homology (biology)
Homology forms the basis of organization for comparative biology. In 1843, Richard Owen defined homology as "the same organ in different animals under every variety of form and function". Organs as different as a bat's wing, a seal's flipper, a cat's paw and a human hand have a common underlying...

 bones present in the forelimbs of limbed vertebrates. For example, they had "radial
Radius (bone)
The radius is one of the two large bones of the forearm, the other being the ulna. It extends from the lateral side of the elbow to the thumb side of the wrist and runs parallel to the ulna, which exceeds it in length and size. It is a long bone, prism-shaped and slightly curved longitudinally...

" bones similar to rudimentary fingers but positioned in the arm-like base of their fins. Thus there was in the evolution of tetrapod
Tetrapods are vertebrate animals having four limbs. Amphibians, reptiles, birds and mammals are all tetrapods; even snakes and other limbless reptiles and amphibians are tetrapods by descent. The earliest tetrapods evolved from the lobe-finned fishes in the Devonian...

s a shift such that the outermost part of the fins were lost and came to be replaced by early digits. This change is consistent with additional evidence from the study of actinopterygians, shark
Sharks are a type of fish with a full cartilaginous skeleton and a highly streamlined body. The earliest known sharks date from more than 420 million years ago....

s and lungfish
Lungfish are freshwater fish belonging to the Subclass Dipnoi. Lungfish are best known for retaining characteristics primitive within the Osteichthyes, including the ability to breathe air, and structures primitive within Sarcopterygii, including the presence of lobed fins with a well-developed...

 that the digits of tetrapods arose from pre-existing distal radials present in more primitive fish.

Controversy still exists since Tiktaalik
Tiktaalik is a genus of extinct sarcopterygian from the late Devonian period, with many features akin to those of tetrapods . It is an example from several lines of ancient sarcopterygian "fish" developing adaptations to the oxygen-poor shallow-water habitats of its time, which led to the...

, a vertebrate often considered to be the missing link
Transitional fossil
A transitional fossil is any fossilized remains of a lifeform that exhibits characteristics of two distinct taxonomic groups. A transitional fossil is the fossil of an organism near the branching point where major individual lineages diverge...

 between fishes and land-living animals, had stubby leg-like limbs that lacked the finger-like radial bones found in the Panderichthys. The researchers of the paper commented that "It is difficult to say whether this character distribution implies that Tiktaalik is autapomorphic, that Panderichthys and tetrapods are convergent, or that Panderichthys is closer to tetrapods than Tiktaalik. At any rate, it demonstrates that the fish–tetrapod transition was accompanied by significant character incongruence in functionally important structures.".p. 638.

Bird and theropod dinosaur digits

Birds and theropod dinosaurs (from which birds evolved) have three digits on their hands. Paradoxically the two digits that are missing are different: the bird hand (embedded in the wing) is thought to derive from the second, third and fourth digits of the ancestral five-digit hand. In contrast, the theropod dinosaur  seem to be the first, second and third digits. Recently a Jurassic theropod intermediate fossil Limusaurus
Limusaurus is a genus of toothless herbivorous theropod dinosaur from the Jurassic Upper Shishugou Formation in the Junggar Basin of western China. Limusaurus is also the first definitely known ceratosaur from Eastern Asia, including China...

 has been found in the Junggar Basin in western China that has a complex mix: it has a first digit stub and full second, third and fourth digits but its wrist bones are like those that are associated with the second, third and fourth digits while its finger bones are those of the first, second and third digits. This suggests the evolution of digits in birds resulted from a "shift in digit identity characterized early stages of theropod evolution"
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