Similar hand shaping in reaching-for-food (skilled reaching) in rats and humans provides evidence of homology in release, collection, and manipulation movements

Behav Brain Res. 2009 Dec 1;204(1):153-61. doi: 10.1016/j.bbr.2009.05.035. Epub 2009 Jun 9.


Many animal species use their forelimbs to assist in eating, such as occurs in a reach-to-eat task (skilled reaching) in which a forelimb is extended to grasp food that is placed in the mouth for eating. It is unclear the extent to which the skilled reaching movements of different species share common ancestry and so are homologous or evolved independently and so are analogous (homoplasy). Here hand shaping (the movements of the hand and digits) that occur as the hand is transported to the target, were examined using high-speed (1000 frames/s) video recording and kinematic measurement (Peak Motus) in the rat (Rattus norvegicus) and human (Homo sapiens). Ten movement similarities were identified from the point that the limb initiated transport towards the food item to the point that the food was grasped. The digits were closed and semi-flexed as the hand was lifted (released from a substrate) and supinated. They closed further as the hand was collected for aiming. They then extended as the hand was transported to the target and then opened in conjunction with pronation to orient the hand for grasping (manipulation). Finally the digits were flexed and closed for grasping. These movements occurred at approximately the same point of limb transport in both species even though the rat used a whole paw grasp and the humans used a pincer grasp. Bushbabies (Galago garnettii), titi monkeys (Callicebus brunneus), rhesus monkeys (Macaca mulatta) and the bonobo (Pan paniscus) displayed similar hand shaping in skilled reaching despite species differences in grasping movements. Homologous hand shaping in the rodent clade and the primate clade and within the primate lineage is discussed in relation to its possible derivation from hand shaping movements associated with stepping.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Animals
  • Biological Evolution*
  • Biomechanical Phenomena
  • Female
  • Fingers / physiology
  • Forelimb / physiology*
  • Galago
  • Hand / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Macaca mulatta
  • Male
  • Motor Skills*
  • Movement
  • Pan paniscus
  • Pitheciidae
  • Rats
  • Rats, Long-Evans
  • Species Specificity
  • Video Recording