Analogous Structures: Definition & Examples

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  • 0:05 What are Analogous Structures?
  • 1:06 Examples of Analogous…
  • 2:50 Identifying Analogous…
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Sarah Friedl

Sarah has two Master's, one in Zoology and one in GIS, a Bachelor's in Biology, and has taught college level Physical Science and Biology.

Though some species may appear to be related, if you take a deeper look you'll be surprised at how different they really are. Analogous structures can provide information about how natural selection leads to similar adaptations in the same environment.

What are Analogous Structures?

Many species have similar traits because they are descendants of a single common ancestor. These species developed from a single source and are related to a certain degree despite their current differences. The traits they share are known as homologous structures. Homologous structures are similar in structure and function because they originated from the same ancestor long ago.

Species may also have similar traits even though they are not related to each other. This usually results because the species live in similar environments and fill similar ecological roles. The structures in this case are known as analogous structures.

The process that brings these traits forward is called convergent evolution. Convergent evolution is natural selection that favors the same type of structure in different ancestors. The similarity between convergent evolution-affected species is called homoplasy, which literally means 'from the same mold or form.'

Examples of Analogous Structures

There are many examples of analogous structures available for us to examine in nature. We can observe various flying animals such as bats, birds, insects, and even fish. However, even though these wing structures serve the same function for these different animals, the bone structures, wing coverings (such as feathers, scales, hair, etc.), shapes, and sizes are quite different.

analogous structure

Another example of an analogous trait is fins. Animals such as penguins and fish both have fin-like structures to help them navigate through their aquatic environments. However, because one is a bird and one is a fish, it is clear that the fin evolved in these very different species because it was the best functional feature for the environment they inhabit instead of from a common ancestor.

While analogous traits may be most easily seen in animals, all organisms can exhibit convergent evolution. Many species of plants, fungi, bacteria, and even molecules can have analogous traits based on their environmental demands and not their ancestral lineage. For example, sweet potatoes and potatoes have the same function of food storage. The difference is that sweet potatoes are an underground root and potatoes are an underground stem.

Analogous traits are not limited to visual body structures; behavioral traits can also be analogous. Bird songs are quite varied, not just between different species but also between different flocks. However, it has been found that some bird species that are quite unrelated can develop analogous song characteristics if held together in similar conditions for periods of time in a lab.

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