from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 4th Edition

  • n. Biology The utilization of a structure or feature for a function other than that for which it was developed through natural selection.

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License

  • n. The use of a biological structure or function for a purpose other than that for which it initially evolved.


ex- + (ad)aptation.
(American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition)


  • This process, known as exaptation, is where a trait or behavior that was adapted for one function is later co-opted and used for something entirely different (such as bird feathers adapted for use in thermoregulation and only later being useful for flight).

    Brain Blogger

  • I much prefer Stephen Jay Gould and Elizabeth Vrba's term "exaptation" for the various characteristics of living organisms.


  • Gould & Vrba (1982) would deny that sand-digging is a function of turtle flippers and prefer instead to label it an "exaptation".

    Teleological Notions in Biology

  • I think to some degree each of these can also be listed as examples of exaptation.


  • The reason I go into the whole song and dance about exaptation with my students is that it makes them think about reality in a way that almost none of them have thought about it before.


  • So as I understand the term, at least as Gould defined it, the use of our hand for swimming is an example of exaptation.


  • What worries me at the core, I think, is the idea that a moral dicta imposed around “rape”, proscribing its “casual” use as vulgar, rendering it an act of moral transgression to speak this word flippantly, while it might serve to affirm the gravity of the crime, might at the same time, for that very reason, prime that word for exaptation into the realm of swearing proper.

    On Profanity: 4

  • Where the narrative represents events that contravene these we have four flavours of quirk respectively (expanding on Suvin's coinage/exaptation of "novum" and following his naming strategy): sutura; chimera; erratum; novum.

    Notes Toward a Theory of Narrative Modality

  • He was rather in the position of a Victorian bishop and naturalist who accepts that creationism is a myth but clings to classic Darwinism, rejecting concepts like exaptation because it complicates the picture, messes up the pure notion of “survival of the fittest”.

    Bukiet on Brooklyn Books

  • A discussion of exaptation could also lead to a discussion of spandrels in evolution, which gets at the heart of the "pan-adaptationist" viewpoint held by many evolutionary biologists and virtually all ID supporters.

    Ancient Predator Revealed!


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  • "Stephen Jay Gould and Yale University paleontologist Elisabeth Vrba devised the term "exaptation" to illuminate the role played by spandrels. Exaptations are spandrels that organisms have adapted for some useful purpose. They were not initially developed by natural selection for their current role, so they are not the same as adaptations, which were. Thus the swiftness of an antelope, which presumably evolved because natural selection weeded out the slower individuals, is an adaptation, while the human ability to read and write would be better described as an exaptation." --Richard Morris, The Evolutionists

    May 27, 2008

  • The utilization of a structure or feature for a function other than that for which it was developed through natural selection.

    February 24, 2007