Tracing Evolutionary Relationships
When we try to follow evolutionary relationships, how do we identify characteristics as common? These characteristics in different organisms would be similar because they are inherited from a common ancestor. As an example, consider the fact that mammals have four limbs, as do birds, reptiles and amphibians (Fig. 9.8). The basic structure of the limbs is similar though it has been modified to perform different functions in various vertebrates. Such a homologous characteristic helps to identify an evolutionary relationship between apparently different species.
However, all similarities simply in organ shape are not necessarily because of common ancestry. What would we think about the wings of birds and bats, for example (Fig. 9.9)? Birds and bats have wings, but squirrels and lizards do not. So are birds and bats more closely related to each other than to squirrels or lizards?
Before we jump to this conclusion, let us look at the wings of birds and bats more closely. When we do that, we find that the wings of bats are skin folds stretched mainly between elongated fingers. But the wings of birds are a feathery covering all along the arm. The designs of the two wings, their structure and components, are thus very different. They look similar because they have a common use for flying, but their origins are not common. This makes them analogous characteristics, rather than homologous characteristics. It would now be interesting to think about whether bird arms and bat arms should be considered homologous