What Is a Derived Character, and Can You Give an Example of One?

A derived character is an advanced quality that only manifests in some individuals of an evolutionary group, according to Lynne M. Clos of Fossil News. The absence of a tail, which initially appeared in an ancestor of apes and humans, is an illustration of a derived characteristic.

Derived characteristics are a subset of the field of evolutionary biology known as cladistics, which, according to Fossil News, is a technique for tracing a group’s evolutionary history. It is based on the division of species into groups according to their relationships in the evolutionary tree.

These connections are found by evolutionary biologists by examining the innate and acquired traits of species. An evolutionary group’s members are all endowed with primitive traits, whereas only some are endowed with evolved traits.

According to Understanding Evolution, biologists create a phylogeny—a theory about how creatures are related—using biological data. They construct phylogenetic trees, which are family trees that show ancestry patterns.

Biologists classify creatures into progressively more exclusive groupings by using shared derived features, qualities that advanced representatives of two lineages share. For instance, having four limbs is a derived characteristic that frogs, turtles, lizards, snakes, crocodiles, birds, and mammals shared at one time in history. These vertebrates are grouped together as a clade thanks to their four limbs.

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