4
$\begingroup$

Assuming humans remained hunter-gatherers, would it be anatomically possible for us to evolve digitigrade legs? Or, is our anatomy too specialized and are we stuck the way we are?

I am not asking about any advantages or disadvantages of being digitigrade, just if it is possible.

$\endgroup$
  • 5
    $\begingroup$ Possible duplicate of Humanoids with digitigrade legs? $\endgroup$ – Morris The Cat Sep 16 '19 at 15:51
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Of course it is possible. Primates in general have a mostly general-purpose anatomy, showing very much less specialization than other mammalian orders. Which is to say, primates are anatomically closer to the original "general mammal"; and that's why it is much easier to imagine them evolving towards higher specialization. Compare the anatomy of human hands or feet with the anatomy of horse hands or feet; we have all the bones and muscles and tendons that horses have, and many more which they no longer have. Primates can evolve towards specialization, horses cannot re-evolve generality. $\endgroup$ – AlexP Sep 16 '19 at 16:01
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ Could we, yes, is it likely, no. being digitigrade does not offer us much in the way of advantages. $\endgroup$ – John Sep 16 '19 at 19:24
2
$\begingroup$

We are neither digitigrade nor plantigrade exclusive because as hunter gathers, we have evolved to take advantage of both which is more selectively fit than one or the other. Our feet are designed to flatten out when we need to cover long distances, but when we are ready to stalk, fight, and chase, we go up on our toes just like digitigrade mammals.

If a person were digitigrade exclusive, then he would not be able to keep up with the migration distances of hunter gatherer societies. He would develop neuromas or other foot problems at an early age causing foot pains that would make him vulnerable to predation or death in battle; so, to answer your question, people are more likely to evolve digitigrade exclusive feet now that it is no longer selected against than he would have as a hunter gatherer.

Mammals that evolved to be digitigrade did so not because they were hunter gatherers but because they were quadrupeds. Quadrupeds can distribute their weight over more appendages; so, specializing makes more since for them.

| improve this answer | |
$\endgroup$
  • $\begingroup$ But what about Dinosaurs? They were biped that evolved to be digitigrade. $\endgroup$ – 299 Neandertal Variants Sep 17 '19 at 21:43
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Bipedal dinosaurs and birds have enlarged toes giving them surface area and support like plantigrade feet. Even though they retained the joint structure of digitigrade feet, they have the large foot profile of a plantigrade animal. So, they are using a different solution to the same problem. There are some advantages to ostrich legs, but they evolutionary pressure against the in-between stages in humans would prevent us from getting there as long as we are hunter-gatherers / tool users. $\endgroup$ – Nosajimiki - Reinstate Monica Sep 17 '19 at 22:04

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.