[ ve-stij-ee-uhl, -stij-uhl ]
/ vɛˈstɪdʒ i əl, -ˈstɪdʒ əl /
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of, relating to, or of the nature of a vestige: a vestigial tail.
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Origin of vestigial

1880–85; <Latin vestīgi(um) vestige + -al1


ves·tig·i·al·ly, adverb
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2022


What does vestigial mean?

Vestigial is used to describe something, especially a part of an organism, that used to have a function but has now shrunk and is mostly not used anymore.

Vestigial is an adjective form of the noun vestige, meaning something left over from a previous version.

Vestigial is used in science to describe structures like animal organs, tissues, or bones that may have been used by an ancestor but aren’t anymore. For example, snakes have vestigial structures where limbs would have been when they walked on four legs.

Even though they serve no function, vestigial structures do not disappear completely because they don’t reduce the likelihood that the animal will reproduce.

Even humans have vestigial organs and vestigial structures. The coccyx—that tiny bone at the bottom of your spinal cord—is believed to be a vestigial structure left over from an ancient ancestor that had a prehensile tail.

Vestigial can also be applied to the specific parts, as in Whales have vestigial pelvic bones from a time when they walked on land.

Example: The human appendix was once thought to be vestigial but scientists think it may still have a function.

Where does vestigial come from?

The first records of vestigial come from the 1880s. It comes from the Latin vestīgi(um), meaning “footprint.” Appropriately enough, a vestigial structure acts as a “footprint” of something that used to be there.

While vestigial structures themselves are often useless or have very minor functions, they are very useful to scientists. That’s because vestigial structures can give clues about the evolutionary history of an animal. For example, they may be evidence of limbs or organs that an ancestor had many generations ago.

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What are some other forms related to vestigial?

  • vestigially (adverb)

What are some synonyms for vestigial?

What are some words that share a root or word element with vestigial


What are some words that often get used in discussing vestigial?

How is vestigial used in real life?

Vestigial is mostly used in discussions of science, particularly evolution.



Try using vestigial!

Is vestigial used correctly in the following sentence?

Penguins have vestigial wings that an ancient ancestor most likely used in order to fly.

How to use vestigial in a sentence

British Dictionary definitions for vestigial

/ (vɛˈstɪdʒɪəl) /

of, relating to, or being a vestige
(of certain organs or parts of organisms) having attained a simple structure and reduced size and function during the evolution of the speciesthe vestigial pelvic girdle of a snake

Derived forms of vestigial

vestigially, adverb
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012

Scientific definitions for vestigial

[ vĕ-stĭjē-əl ]

Relating to a body part that has become small and lost its use because of evolutionary change. Whales, for example, have small bones located in the muscles of their body walls that are vestigial bones of hips and hind limbs.
The American Heritage® Science Dictionary Copyright © 2011. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.