A homologous[Etymology 1] trait is any characteristic of organisms that is derived from a common ancestor. This is contrasted to analogous traits: similarities between organisms that were not in the last common ancestor of the taxa being considered but rather evolved separately. As defined by Owen (1843), a homology is a "structural correspondence", whereas an analogy is a "non-correspondent similarity".
Whether or not a trait is homologous depends on both the taxonomic and anatomical level at which the trait is examined. For example, the bird and bat wing are homologous as forearms in tetrapods. However, they are not homologous as wings, because the organ served as a forearm (not a wing) in the last common ancestor of tetrapods. By definition, any homologous trait defines a clade—a monophyletic taxon in which all the members have the trait (or have lost it secondarily); and all non-members lack it.
A homologous trait may be homoplasious – that is, it has evolved independently, but from the same ancestral structure – plesiomorphic – that is, present in a common ancestor but secondarily lost in some of its descendants – or (syn)apomorphic – present in an ancestor and all of its descendants.
A homologous trait is often called a homolog (also spelled homologue). In genetics, the term "homolog" is used both to refer to a homologous protein, and to the gene (DNA sequence) encoding it.
Homology of structures
Shared ancestry can be evolutionary or developmental. Evolutionary ancestry means that structures evolved from some structure in a common ancestor; for example, the wings of bats and the arms of primates are homologous in this sense. Developmental ancestry means that structures arose from the same tissue in embryonal development; the ovaries of female humans and the testicles of male humans are homologous in this sense.
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