exaptation

noun ex·ap·ta·tion \ ˌeg-ˌzap-ˈtā-shən \
Updated on: 7 Jan 2018

Definition of exaptation

: a trait, feature, or structure of an organism or taxonomic group that takes on a function when none previously existed or that differs from its original function which had been derived by evolution
  • As for exaptations, we need look no further than feathers. It is now argued that feathers were not originally evolved for flight, but emerged in the reptilian ancestors of today's birds, where they served for temperature regulation.
  • —Steven Rose
; also : the condition or circumstance of possessing one or more such traits, features, or structures
  • In fact, it's hard to say just how much of the brain's power is a result of exaptation rather than adaptation.
  • —Tom Siegfried
Note: The word exaptation was proposed by Stephen Jay Gould and Elizabeth Vrba in the 1980s as an alternative to preadaptation, which was felt to imply that such traits, features, or structures were destined for a future function. While exaptation has been widely adopted, preadaptation continues to be acceptable in current usage with both terms showing comparable frequency of usage.

Recent Examples of exaptation from the Web

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'exaptation.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

Origin and Etymology of exaptation

1ex- + adaptation


Seen and Heard

What made you want to look up exaptation? Please tell us where you read or heard it (including the quote, if possible).

Love words? Need even more definitions?

Subscribe to America's largest dictionary and get thousands more definitions and advanced search—ad free!

WORD OF THE DAY

a eulogistic oration or writing

Get Word of the Day daily email!

Test Your Vocabulary

Namesakes Word Quiz

  • a-citrus-fruit-possibly-named-after-a-person
  • Which of the following is a fruit named after a Moroccan seaport?
Name That Thing

Test your visual vocabulary with our 10-question challenge!

TAKE THE QUIZ
SCRABBLE® Sprint

Test Your Knowledge - and learn some interesting things along the way.

TAKE THE QUIZ

Love words? Need even more definitions?

Subscribe to America's largest dictionary and get thousands more definitions and advanced search—ad free!