Tagma (biology)

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In biology a tagma (Greek: τάγμα, plural tagmata – τάγματα) is a specialized grouping of multiple segments or metameres into a coherently functional morphological unit. Familiar examples are the head, the thorax, and the abdomen of insects. [1] The segments within a tagma may be either fused (such as in the head of an insect) or so jointed as to be independently moveable (such as in the abdomen of most insects).

Biology is the natural science that studies life and living organisms, including their physical structure, chemical processes, molecular interactions, physiological mechanisms, development and evolution. Despite the complexity of the science, there are certain unifying concepts that consolidate it into a single, coherent field. Biology recognizes the cell as the basic unit of life, genes as the basic unit of heredity, and evolution as the engine that propels the creation and extinction of species. Living organisms are open systems that survive by transforming energy and decreasing their local entropy to maintain a stable and vital condition defined as homeostasis.

Segmentation in biology is the division of some animal and plant body plans into a series of repetitive segments. This article focuses on the segmentation of animal body plans, specifically using the examples of the taxa Arthropoda, Chordata, and Annelida. These three groups form segments by using a "growth zone" to direct and define the segments. While all three have a generally segmented body plan and use a growth zone, they use different mechanisms for generating this patterning. Even within these groups, different organisms have different mechanisms for segmenting the body. Segmentation of the body plan is important for allowing free movement and development of certain body parts. It also allows for regeneration in specific individuals.

Metamerism (biology) phenomenon of having a linear series of body segments fundamentally similar in structure

In biology, metamerism is the phenomenon of having a linear series of body segments fundamentally similar in structure, though not all such structures are entirely alike in any single life form because some of them perform special functions. In animals, metameric segments are referred to as somites or metameres. In plants, they are referred to as metamers or, more concretely, phytomers.


Usually the term is taken to refer to tagmata in the morphology of members of the phylum Arthropoda, but it applies equally validly in other phyla, such as the Chordata.

In biology, a phylum is a level of classification or taxonomic rank below kingdom and above class. Traditionally, in botany the term division has been used instead of phylum, although the International Code of Nomenclature for algae, fungi, and plants accepts the terms as equivalent. Depending on definitions, the animal kingdom Animalia or Metazoa contains approximately 35 phyla, the plant kingdom Plantae contains about 14, and the fungus kingdom Fungi contains about 8 phyla. Current research in phylogenetics is uncovering the relationships between phyla, which are contained in larger clades, like Ecdysozoa and Embryophyta.

Arthropod Phylum of invertebrates

An arthropod is an invertebrate animal having an exoskeleton, a segmented body, and paired jointed appendages. Arthropods form the phylum Euarthropoda, which includes insects, arachnids, myriapods, and crustaceans. The term Arthropoda as originally proposed refers to a proposed grouping of Euarthropods and the phylum Onychophora. Arthropods are characterized by their jointed limbs and cuticle made of chitin, often mineralised with calcium carbonate. The arthropod body plan consists of segments, each with a pair of appendages. The rigid cuticle inhibits growth, so arthropods replace it periodically by moulting. Arthropods are bilaterally symmetrical and their body possesses an external skeleton. Some species have wings.

In a given taxon the names assigned to particular tagmata are in some sense informal and arbitrary; for example, not all the tagmata of species within a given subphylum of the Arthropoda are homologous to those of species in other subphyla; for one thing they do not all comprise corresponding somites, and for another, not all the tagmata have closely analogous functions or anatomy. In some cases this has led to earlier names for tagmata being more or less successfully superseded. For example, the one-time terms "cephalothorax" and "abdomen" of the Araneae, though not yet strictly regarded as invalid, are giving way to prosoma and opisthosoma. The latter two terms carry less of a suggestion of homology with the significantly different tagmata of insects.

In zoological nomenclature, a subphylum is a taxonomic rank below the rank of phylum.

Homology (biology) .existence of shared ancestry between a pair of structures, or genes, in different taxa

In biology, homology is the existence of shared ancestry between a pair of structures, or genes, in different taxa. A common example of homologous structures is the forelimbs of vertebrates, where the wings of bats, the arms of primates, the front flippers of whales and the forelegs of dogs and horses are all derived from the same ancestral tetrapod structure. Evolutionary biology explains homologous structures adapted to different purposes as the result of descent with modification from a common ancestor. The term was first applied to biology in a non-evolutionary context by the anatomist Richard Owen in 1843. Homology was later explained by Charles Darwin's theory of evolution in 1859, but had been observed before this, from Aristotle onwards, and it was explicitly analysed by Pierre Belon in 1555.

Somite division of the body of an animal or embryo

Somites are divisions of the body of an animal or embryo. The divisions are also known as metameric segments.


Tagmata in Harpacticoida: different kinds of segment are joined together into tagmata. Two thoracic segments are fused into the head; one thoracic segment is in the posterior tagma. Other kinds of copepod also have two tagmata but formed by different segments. Harpacticoida tagmata.svg
Tagmata in Harpacticoida: different kinds of segment are joined together into tagmata. Two thoracic segments are fused into the head; one thoracic segment is in the posterior tagma. Other kinds of copepod also have two tagmata but formed by different segments.

The development of distinct tagmata is believed to be a feature of the evolution of segmented animals, especially arthropods. In the ancestral arthropod, the body was made up of repeated segments, each with similar internal organs and appendages. One evolutionary trend is the grouping together of some segments into larger units, the tagmata. The evolutionary process of grouping is called tagmosis (or tagmatization). [2]

The first and simplest stage was a division into two tagmata: an anterior "head" (cephalon) and a posterior "trunk". The head contained the brain and carried sensory and feeding appendages. The trunk bore the appendages responsible for locomotion and respiration (gills in aquatic species). In almost all modern arthropods, the trunk is further divided into a "thorax" and an "abdomen", with the thorax bearing the main locomotory appendages. In some groups, such as arachnids, the cephalon (head) and thorax are hardly distinct externally and form a single tagma, the "cephalothorax" or "prosoma". Mites appear to have a single tagma with no obvious external signs of either segments or separate tagmata. [2]

Gill respiratory organ

A gill is a respiratory organ found in many aquatic organisms that extracts dissolved oxygen from water and excretes carbon dioxide. The gills of some species, such as hermit crabs, have adapted to allow respiration on land provided they are kept moist. The microscopic structure of a gill presents a large surface area to the external environment. Branchia is the zoologists' name for gills.

Arachnid Class of arthropods

Arachnida is a class of joint-legged invertebrate animals (arthropods), in the subphylum Chelicerata. Almost all adult arachnids have eight legs, although the front pair of legs in some species has converted to a sensory function, while in other species, different appendages can grow large enough to take on the appearance of extra pairs of legs. The term is derived from the Greek word ἀράχνη (aráchnē), from the myth of the hubristic human weaver Arachne who was turned into a spider. Spiders are the largest order in the class, which also includes scorpions, ticks, mites, harvestmen, and solifuges. In 2019, a molecular phylogenetic study also placed horseshoe crabs in Arachnida.

Mite common name for small arachnids

Mites are small arthropods belonging to the class Arachnida and the subclass Acari. The term "mite" refers to the members of several groups in Acari but it is not a clade as it spans two different groups of arachnids; it also excludes the ticks, order Ixodida. Mites and ticks are characterised by the body being divided into two regions, the cephalothorax or prosoma, and an opisthosoma. The scientific discipline devoted to the study of ticks and mites is called acarology.

Tagmosis proceeded differently in different groups of arthropods, so that the tagmata are not derived from corresponding (homologous) segments, even though the same names may be used for the tagmata. [3] Copepods (a kind of crustacean) provide an example. The basic copepod body consists of a head, a thorax with six segments, ancestrally each with a swimming leg, and an abdomen with five appendageless segments. Except in parasitic species, the body is divided functionally into two tagmata, that may be called a "prosome" and a "urosome", with an articulation between them allowing the body to flex. Different groups of copepods have the articulation at different places. In the Calanoida, the articulation is between the thoracic and abdominal segments, so that the boundary between the prosome and urosome corresponds to the boundary between thoracic and abdominal segments. However, in the Harpacticoida, the articulation is between the fifth and sixth thoracic segments, so that the sixth thoracic segment is in the urosome (see the diagram). [4]

Copepod subclass of crustaceans

Copepods are a group of small crustaceans found in nearly every freshwater and saltwater habitat. Some species are planktonic, some are benthic, and some continental species may live in limnoterrestrial habitats and other wet terrestrial places, such as swamps, under leaf fall in wet forests, bogs, springs, ephemeral ponds, and puddles, damp moss, or water-filled recesses (phytotelmata) of plants such as bromeliads and pitcher plants. Many live underground in marine and freshwater caves, sinkholes, or stream beds. Copepods are sometimes used as biodiversity indicators.

Crustacean subphylum of arthropods

Crustaceans form a large, diverse arthropod taxon which includes such familiar animals as crabs, lobsters, crayfish, shrimps, prawns, krill, woodlice, and barnacles. The crustacean group is usually treated as a class under subphylum Mandibulata and because of recent molecular studies it is now well accepted that the crustacean group is paraphyletic, and comprises all animals in the Pancrustacea clade other than hexapods. Some crustaceans are more closely related to insects and other hexapods than they are to certain other crustaceans.

Calanoida order of crustaceans

Calanoida is an order of copepods, a kind of zooplankton. They include around 46 families with about 1800 species of both marine and freshwater copepods. Calanoid copepods are dominant in the plankton in many parts of the world's oceans, making up 55%–95% of plankton samples. They are therefore important in many food webs, taking in energy from phytoplankton and algae and 'repackaging' it for consumption by higher trophic level predators. Many commercial fish are dependent on calanoid copepods for diet in either their larval or adult forms. Baleen whales such as bowhead whales, sei whales, right whales and fin whales eat calanoid copepods.

Tagmosis is an extreme form of heteronomy, mediated by Hox genes and the other developmental genes they influence. [5]


The number of tagma and their names vary among taxa. For example, the extinct trilobites had three tagmata: the cephalon (meaning head), the thorax (literally meaning chest, but in this application referring to the mid-portion of the body), and the pygidium (meaning rump). The Hexapoda, including insects, also have three tagmata, usually termed the head, thorax, and abdomen.

The bodies of many arachnids, such as spiders, have two tagmata, as do the bodies of some crustaceans: in both groups the anterior tagma may be called the cephalothorax (meaning head plus chest) or the prosoma or prosome (meaning "fore-part of body"). The posterior tagma may be called the abdomen. In those arachnids that have two tagmata, the abdomen is also called the opisthosoma. In crustaceans, the posterior tagma is also called the pleon or the urosome (meaning the tail part); alternatively, "pleon" may refer only to the abdominal segments incorporated into the posterior tagma, the thoracic segments in this tagma being called the "pereon". [6]

Related Research Articles

Chelicerata subphylum of arthropods

The subphylum Chelicerata constitutes one of the major subdivisions of the phylum Arthropoda. It contains the sea spiders, arachnids, and several extinct lineages, such as the eurypterids.

Solifugae order of animals in the class Arachnida

Solifugae is an order of animals in the class Arachnida known variously as camel spiders, wind scorpions, sun spiders, or solifuges. The order includes more than 1,000 described species in about 153 genera. Despite the common names, they are neither true scorpions nor true spiders. Much like a spider, the body of a solifugid has two tagmata: an opisthosoma (abdomen) behind the prosoma. At the front end, the prosoma bears two chelicerae that, in most species, are conspicuously large. The chelicerae serve as jaws and in many species also are used for stridulation. Unlike scorpions, solifugids do not have a third tagma that forms a "tail". Most species of Solifugae live in dry climates and feed opportunistically on ground-dwelling arthropods and other small animals. The largest species grow to a length of 12–15 cm (5–6 in), including legs. A number of urban legends exaggerate the size and speed of the Solifugae, and their potential danger to humans, which is negligible.


The pygidium is the posterior body part or shield of crustaceans and some other arthropods, such as insects and the extinct trilobites. It contains the anus and, in females, the ovipositor. It is composed of fused body segments, sometimes with a tail, and separated from thoracic segments by an articulation.

Xiphosura Order of marine chelicerates

Xiphosuran is an order of arthropods related to arachnids, or, according to one recent study, actual arachnids. They are sometimes called horseshoe crabs. They first appeared in the Hirnantian. Currently, there are only four living species. They are members of the order Xiphosura, which contains two suborders, Xiphosurida and Synziphosurina.


The telson is the posterior-most division of the body of an arthropod. It is not considered a true segment because it does not arise in the embryo from teloblast areas as do real segments. It never carries any appendages, but a forked "tail" called the caudal furca may be present. The shape and composition of the telson differs between arthropod groups.


The cephalothorax, also called prosoma in some groups, is a tagma of various arthropods, comprising the head and the thorax fused together, as distinct from the abdomen behind. The word cephalothorax is derived from the Greek words for head and thorax. This fusion of the head and thorax is seen in chelicerates and crustaceans; in other groups, such as the Hexapoda, the head remains free of the thorax. In horseshoe crabs and many crustaceans, a hard shell called the carapace covers the cephalothorax.

Abdomen frontal part of the body between the thorax (chest) and pelvis

The abdomen is the part of the body between the thorax (chest) and pelvis, in humans and in other vertebrates. The abdomen is the front part of the abdominal segment of the trunk. The region occupied by the abdomen is called the abdominal cavity. In arthropods it is the posterior tagma of the body; it follows the thorax or cephalothorax.


The mesosoma is the middle part of the body, or tagma, of arthropods whose body is composed of three parts, the other two being the prosoma and the metasoma. It bears the legs, and, in the case of winged insects, the wings.

Opisthosoma Wikimedia disambiguation page

The opisthosoma is the posterior part of the body in some arthropods, behind the prosoma (cephalothorax). It is a distinctive feature of the subphylum Chelicerata. Although it is similar in most respects to an abdomen, the opisthosoma is differentiated by its inclusion of the respiratory organs and the heart.


The metasoma is the posterior part of the body, or tagma, of arthropods whose body is composed of three parts, the other two being the prosoma and the mesosoma. In insects, it contains most of the digestive tract, respiratory system, and circulatory system, and the apical segments are typically modified to form genitalia. In a few of the most primitive insects, the metasomal segments bear small, articulated appendages called "styli", which are often considered to be vestigial. There are also pre-apical appendages in most insect orders, called cerci, which may be multi-segmented and almost resembling a posterior pair of antennae; these may be variously modified, or lost entirely. Otherwise, most adult insects lack appendages on the metasoma, though many larval insects have some form of appendages, such as prolegs or, in aquatic insects, gills.

Spider anatomy

The anatomy of spiders includes many characteristics shared with other arachnids. These characteristics include bodies divided into two tagmata, eight jointed legs, no wings or antennae, the presence of chelicerae and pedipalps, simple eyes, and an exoskeleton, which is periodically shed.

Opiliones anatomy

Opiliones are an order of arachnids and share many common characteristics with other arachnids. However, several differences separate harvestmen from other arachnid orders such as spiders. The bodies of opliones are divided into two tagmata : the abdomen (opisthosoma) and the cephalothorax (prosoma). Unlike spiders, the juncture between the abdomen and cephalothorax is often poorly defined. Harvestmen have chelicerae, pedipalps and four pairs of legs. Most harvestmen have two eyes, although there are eyeless species.

This glossary describes the terms used in formal descriptions of spiders; where applicable these terms are used in describing other arachnids.

The cephalon is the head section of an arthropod. It is a tagma, i.e., a specialized grouping of arthropod segments. The word cephalon derives from the Greek κεφαλή (kephalē), meaning "head".

Thorax (insect anatomy) body part of an arthropod

The thorax is the midsection (tagma) of the insect body. It holds the head, legs, wings and abdomen. It is also called mesosoma in other arthropods.

Hexapoda subphylum of arthropods

The subphylum Hexapoda constitutes the largest number of species of arthropods and includes the insects as well as three much smaller groups of wingless arthropods: Collembola, Protura, and Diplura. The Collembola are very abundant in terrestrial environments. Hexapods are named for their most distinctive feature: a consolidated thorax with three pairs of legs. Most other arthropods have more than three pairs of legs.

<i>Strabops</i> genus of extinct arthropod

Strabops is a genus of strabopid, an extinct group of arthropods. Strabops is known from a single specimen from the Late Cambrian of the Potosi Dolomite, Missouri, collected by a former professor, Arthur Thacher. It is classified in the family Strabopidae of the monotypic order Strabopida, a group closely related to the aglaspidids with uncertain affinities. The generic name is composed by the Ancient Greek words στραβός, meaning "squinting", and ὄψῐς, meaning "face".


Paleomerus is a genus of strabopid, a group of extinct arthropods. It has been found in deposits from the Cambrian period. It is classified in the family Strabopidae of the monotypic order Strabopida. It contains two species, P. hamiltoni from Sweden and P. makowskii from Poland. The generic name is composed by the Ancient Greek words παλαιός (palaiós), meaning "ancient", and μέρος (méros), meaning "part".

<i>Dvulikiaspis</i> Extinct genus of chasmataspidid

Dvulikiaspis is a genus of chasmataspidid, a group of extinct aquatic arthropods. Fossils of the single and type species, D. menneri, have been discovered in deposits of the Early Devonian period in the Krasnoyarsk Krai, Siberia, Russia. The name of the genus is composed by the Russian word двуликий (dvulikij), meaning "two-faced", and the Ancient Greek word ἀσπίς (aspis), meaning "shield". The species name honors the discoverer of the holotype of Dvulikiaspis, Vladimir Vasilyevich Menner.


  1. D. R. Khanna (2004). Biology of Arthropoda. Discovery Publishing House. ISBN   978-81-7141-897-8.
  2. 1 2 Ruppert, Fox & Barnes (2004), pp. 518–520.
  3. Ruppert, Fox & Barnes 2004, p. 518.
  4. Barnes et al. (2001), p. 198.
  5. Alessandro Minelli (2003). "Body Regions: Their Boundaries and Complexity". The development of animal form: ontogeny, morphology, and evolution. Cambridge University Press. pp. 79–105. ISBN   978-0-521-80851-4.
  6. Barnes et al. (2001), p. 191.