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Prehensility is the quality of an organ that has adapted for grasping or holding. Examples of prehensile body parts include the tails of New World monkeys and opossums, the trunks of elephants, the tongues of giraffes, the lips of horses and the proboscides of tapir. The hands of primates are all prehensile to varying degrees, and many species (even a few humans) have prehensile feet as well. The claws of cats are also prehensile. Many extant lizards have prehensile tails (geckos, chameleons, and a species of skink). The fossil record shows prehensile tails in lizards (Simiosauria) going back many million years to the Triassic period - Celeskey (2005).

Prehensility is an evolutionary adaptation that has afforded species a great natural advantage in manipulating their environment for feeding, digging, and defense. It enables many animals, such as primates, to use tools in order to complete tasks that would otherwise be impossible without highly specialized anatomy. For example, chimpanzees have the ability to use sticks to fish for termites and grubs. However, not all prehensile organs are applied to tool use- the giraffe tongue, for instance, is instead used in feeding and self-cleaning behaviors.

The word is derived from the Latin term prehendere, meaning "to grasp."

See also