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Never trust something with an odd number of limbs.
In Real Life, the standard number of limbs for land animals other than arthropods (insects, spiders, centepedes, etc) is FOUR, including legs, arms (which anatomically are really modified forelegs), and wings (which are modified arms), but not counting head and optional tail (or for that matter, genitalia, horns, antlers, trunk, etc.). The only exceptions are losses to injury and usually harmful mutations. Any biologist will tell you that snakes and whales bear signs of evolving from four-limbed animals.
Why this is isn't entirely clear. There's nothing intrinsically wrong with six or more legs. It might be simply an accident of evolution that the current large land animals originated from a species with a four limb body plan. Evolution generally tweaks body plans much, much more often than it originates new ones. However, evidence suggests that when the first fish crawled out of the water, it did so on seven - toed feet. (In case you're wondering, they evolved to crawl while still in the water.) The fish themselves had four appendages, because two pairs of fins had previously been ideal for their needs as swimmers. On the other hand, it's possible that four represents a kind of optimum practical number for limbs — the energy required to grow, maintain, and use additional appendages might outweigh their benefits.
Of course the fact that nature chose one standard land vertebrate body plan doesn't stop fiction writers from subverting nature's tropes. Or perhaps exactly as old as dirt, for a number of documentaries have suggested that many tales of fantastic creatures could have been inspired by early humans encountering bones of prehistoric creatures and misinterpreting the evidence. For reasons that should be obvious, in modern writing, land vertebrates with five or more limbs is primarily a Speculative Fiction trope. They're often very useful in said fiction, in combat or for grabbing.
Sometimes justified because A Wizard Did It or because there's no obvious reason why aliens would always have exactly four limbs, but trying to determine the internal anatomy of such creatures may lead to Fridge Logic. While in most cases authors Hand Wave such things, it doesn't stop others from trying.
Note: as the subtropes get filled out with three or more examples, they can be YKTTW'd and moved into separate subtropes.
Contrast Four-Legged Insect, which provides examples of invertebrates with fewer limbs than in real life.
- 1 Multilegged Land Vertebrate
- 2 Four Limbs Plus Wings (not including Winged Humanoids)
- 3 Vertebrate - Invertebrate Mix
Multilegged Land Vertebrate
A creature, almost always a fur-covered mammal that normally has four legs, has six or more fully-formed legs for no other obvious reason than the Rule of Cool.
- The Norse God, Odin had an eight-legged horse named Sleipnir.
- Which was born from Loki (shape-shifted into a mare at the time) and a giant's stallion.
- Basilisks, depending on the depiction.
- Asian dragons, being usually associated with rivers or water, almost never have wings but can have four or more legs (usually depending on how long/powerful the dragon is). For an example, see the river spirit in Spirited Away. More rarely, Western dragons can also look like this.
Anime & Manga
- The Pokémon Giratina has six legs when in its Altered-Form.
- The Catbus from My Neighbor Totoro.
- Also the Kittenbus from the OVA of the same universe.
- Most of the Pandoran wildlife in Avatar has six limbs: two pairs of forelimbs and one of hind. The Na'vi do not; this is explained in-universe by their evolution from the monkey-like creatures Jake sees on his first trip out. (More specifically: The aforementioned monkey-things also have six limbs, but the forelimbs on each side are joined at the elbow - so, two total upper arms and four total lower arms. Presumably Na'vi arms have two parallel bone structures in them all the way down to the hands.)
- This doesn't stop the Wild Mass Guessing that they may be an engineered species, of which this is taken as one of the signs; it's more genetically likely that their ancestry includes a pair of arms becoming vestigial and wasting away than that they joined together.
- Justified with Stitch from Lilo and Stitch: he is not only an alien, he's a genetic experiment as well. Also, most of the time he keeps his extra arms hidden so Muggles mistake him for a dog.
- The villain, Randall, from Monsters, Inc.. He was clearly reptillian in design, but had six legs.
- Treecats in Honor Harrington have six legs, as do most other native land vertebrates from Sphinx, their homeworld, including the Hexapuma and Sphinx Chipmunk.
- ditto the native vertabrates of the planet Safehold from the series of the same name.
- Jack Vance's Planet Of Adventure features six legged beasts of burden.
- On Gor one of the most common animals is the sleen, often described as looking like a furred snake or lizard, which has six legs.
- Edgar Rice Burroughs' Barsoom novels had:
- 6 legs: the cat-like sorak and rat-like ulsio
- 10 legs: the elephant-like thoat, lion-like banth, and dog-like calot
- Apts: 2 arms and 4 legs
- Green Martians: 4 Arms and 2 legs
- The novel Glory Road by Robert A. Heinlein has horse-analogues with eight legs, on an alien planet. They are used as draft animals.
- In Anne McCaffrey's Freedom series, there are "loo-cows" that have six legs in order to constantly pound the ground at night and keep the monsters that live underground at bay.
- Raymond E. Feist's Riftwar Cycle had a planet where most large animals had six legs, due to taking a different evolutionary path from Earth.
- There's a six-legged cat, among other things, in The Dark Tower. These animals are called "muties", which is presumably slang for mutant. Later on it's revealed that they are indeed descended from mutated four-legged cats.
- Thallonian riding beasts in Star Trek: New Frontier. Quite possibly, all Thallonian vertebrates (the Thallonians themselves aren't native to Thallon, so their four-limbed humanoid shape doesn't have to fit in).
Live Action Television
- Presumably the Octo-Chicken.
- Star Frontiers had eight-legged land whales.
- Displacer beasts in Dungeons and Dragons have six legs. And two tentacles.
- The planets Ungavorox and Grail in Fading Suns universe are known for their six-limber fauna.
- Scientists who were asked to imagine what an alien world would look like, and what sort of creatures might inhabit it, agreed that a six-limbed version of a common land vertebrate wouldn't be too unbelieveable.
- There have been instances of frogs being born with more or less legs than usual due to mutations; sometimes many, many more. They can't actually do anything with them.
- Many New World monkeys have prehensile tails that function like fifth limbs. And elephants have prehensile noses that are more powerful than many animal's limbs.
- And not to mention Lakshmi Tatma, the 8-limbed girl.
- The Warcraft games have basilisks, crocolisks, and diemetradons, all of which have six legs. Very likely a nod to the necessity of a six-limbed reptile template which would eventually evolve into bog-standard fantasy dragons.
- In the sequel to Crystal Quest, you learn that your Flying Saucer is flown by a six-legged Space Cow.
- The Seekers, antagonists of Advent Rising, look somewhat like reptilian centaurs, with a two-armed humanoid torso supported by four legs. Interestingly, while their hind legs end in hooves, the forelegs have hands that are strong and dexterous enough to handle weapons; they are also seen to tuck the forelegs against their hind ones, standing upright at twice the size of any human.
- Galdon, the boss of DarkIce Mines in Star Fox Adventures is a six-limbed (four legs, two arms) carnivorous dinosaur with small tentacles on the sides of its head. It has a figure that falls somewhere between that of an insect and a centaur.
- Avatar: The Last Airbender has Appa the six-legged bison among others.
Four Limbs Plus Wings (not including Winged Humanoids)
A land vertebrate is shown with either four legs or arms and legs in addition to one or more wings or the remains of wings.
- Western dragons are typically depicted as having four limbs and one pair of wings.
- Eastern dragons are sometimes presented as having as many wings as they do legs - pairs of both running all along both sides of their long serpentine bodies.
- Likewise, griffins also usually have four limbs and a pair of wings.
- Though, again, sometimes they only have two legs. And in some older myths, the female has wings, and the male has enormous spikes protruding from its shoulders.
- Pegasus, the flying horse in Greek Myth, has four limbs and a pair of wings as well.
- The peryton from the Classical Mythology, a pegasus style animal only being a winged deer rather than a winged horse (and carnivorous, but that's another story). There's a recent tendency to portray it as a bird with a deer's head however, probably based on D&D.
- Semargl, a Slavic god, takes the form of a winged dog.
- Thai myth has a lot of fantastic mix-and-match critters, including numerous winged, six-limbed vertebrates. Among them are flying kirins, winged horses, a sort of griffin called kraisorn puksa, and even flying elephants.
- The titular God-monster in Q – The Winged Serpent has four legs and two wings.
- Hippogriffs, Thestrals, and Dragons in Harry Potter.
- In The Dragonriders of Pern, dragons are genetically engineered creatures descended from ordinary four-legged fire lizards.
- Also native to Pern are wherries, another fire-lizard-related species, which also have four legs and two wings.
- Tunnel snakes, who share a common ancestor with fire lizards and wherries, also have six limbs. In this case, instead of wings, they have three sets of legs; the front set adapted to digging. Six limbs could well be the norm for vertebrates on Pern, but thanks to Thread nearly sterilizing the planet every 250 years, there wasn't a lot of genetic diversity on the planet before humans came along and introduced Earth flora and fauna.
- Kinshaya in the Star Trek Novel Verse. They have four legs and wings on their back. In an ancestral species, these were used for flying, but modern Kinshaya are too heavy and retain them for display purposes.
- In Robert E. Howard's Conan the Barbarian story "Queen of the Black Coast", when they spot the ruins, they also spot a winged ape.
- Dungeons and Dragons has dragons, winged serpents (which aren't this trope because that's two limbs total), and many others.
- The Warcraft games also have many creatures with four legs and wings (such as dragons and gryphons)
- The World Ends With You has this among the noise forms. Kitanji rules this trope: He goes from no arms and legs as Anguis Cantus, to two four limbs a pair of wings and five heads as Draco Cantus.
- Rouge from Sonic the Hedgehog is a white bat with separate arms and wings.
- Several characters in My Little Pony, being pegasi or dragons.
- Gargoyles are all winged vertebrates.
- Cats can grow "wings" from matted fur or medical conditions. They can't fly, obviously.
Vertebrate - Invertebrate Mix
When Mix-and-Match Critters include parts from invertebrates, the result can be a creature that appears to be a land vertebrate, but has more than four (and often much more than four) limbs.
- Dungeons and Dragons: driders, manscorpions, and others.
- The Cray from the Perdido Street Station sequel The Scar have a humanoid upper body and crayfishlike lower body.
- The Octo-Parrot that appears once in The Simpsons. "Waaak! Polly shouldn't be!"
- Ursula, the main villainess of The Little Mermaid is half-octopus. This is most noticable when she is electrocuted at the end of the film.
Other / Combos / Unsorted / Lost examples
- Bleach: Yammy has a released form of a centipede-centaur. Basically a giant human but with seven extra legs along a torso extending behind him.
- Snakes with arms: similar to Centaurs, but with the back end of a snake rather than a horse or other quadruped.
- Dungeons and Dragons gives us Yuan-Ti Abominations, and Mariliths (who overlap with Multi-Armed and Dangerous).
- Magic: The Gathering often has snake-people featured as snakes with arms, but one block (Kamigawa) contained snake-people with four arms, two legs, and no tail.
- City of Heroes MMORPG has a "snakes with arms" villian group called "The Snakes", as well as allowing the creation of player characters with wings, both organic and artificial.
- The Naga — super-sized snakes with human bodies from the waist up where the snakes' heads would be. They're originally from Hindu mythology and are now found in quite a few different fantasy series. The aforementioned DnD creatures may be Naga, but from the description above, probably not.
- Some depictions of Naga feature two or three pairs of arms, and no legs; usually, the most divine members of the species. Others have another snake head at the tip of the tail.
- Warcraft's depiction of the Naga has two-armed males and four-armed females.
- Guild Wars has different breeds of Naga, some looking like straight up giant snakes with arms, others with cobra hoods.
- In Werewolf: The Apocalypse, Nagah are wereserpents who can shapeshift into five forms: a human, a scaly hairless humanoid, a giant cobra with arms and long claws, a giant snake with gills that can sprout arms when necessary, and a normal snake. Some depictions make thier arms as bendy as a snake's spine, just to really weird it up.
- Bulldogs!, a sci-fi RPG, includes a naga-like species called Saldrallans among its core player races.
- In Real Life the prehistoric reptile Coelurosauravus, a relative of lizards that lived during the Permian Period, had four legs and two gliding "wings." Unlike today's gliding lizards, whose gliding membranes grow on spread-out ribs, Coelurosauravus's "wings" were an entirely unique set of bones not connected to its ribs. Their morphology suggests they evolved by ossification of connective tissues in the skin, though that's the sort of thing that almost never fossilized so it's difficult to confirm.