A forelimb is a part of the body that refers to the limb located nearer to the head, or the upper part of the torso. It is often seen in many four-legged animals or “quadrupeds,” such as horses, cheetahs, and dogs, and is often referred to as the foreleg. In humans, the arm is the equivalent of this body part, stretching from the shoulder down to the fingertips. The forelimb is the corresponding part of the hind limbs, or the hind legs.
As compared to the hind leg, the forelimb generally has a shorter length and bears more of the animal’s weight. This provides the animal with more balance and stability and gives the animal a certain momentum when running, since the body is naturally leaning forward. In fact, when a horse is running, one of its forelimbs carries the animal’s entire weight for just a split second.
Generally, the forelimb consists of three or four major segments, as observed in a human arm that has the upper arm, the forearm, and the hand as the three segments. Many animals have common bones in the forelimbs, such as the humerus in the upper segment, the radius and the ulna in the lower section, and the phalanges that refer to the bones in the paws or hooves. The carpals are the bones that usually connect the paws to the lower segment of the limb. The segmented characteristic of the forelimb anatomy allows animals to have flexible movements and reduces the occurrence of serious injuries.
It is an interesting fact that the forelimbs of some animals, like the horse and the cats, are not even connected to the skeleton by bones. They are actually attached to the body via muscles and tendons. A person can even cut off one of the horse’s forelimbs without experiencing any obstruction from a single bone.
Forelimbs are usually a part of a mammal’s body, but are not usually seen in some mammals such as the whale, seal, and the bat and in birds and fishes. The flipper and the wing, however, are considered the equivalent of the forelimb and even share the same kind of bones with the forelimbs. This occurrence is said to be homologous, which means that some body parts of many animals have the same structure. Many evolutionists interpret homology as evidence of evolution and that animals come from the same ancestor. Creationists, however, consider homology as proof of an “intelligent design.”