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Retractable Appendages

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Experiment 626 changing from alien to "dog" in just seconds.

Exactly What It Says on the Tin. This trope describes one's ability to retract their limbs.

This is an ability common to creatures that possess a protective shell, which can retract their limbs within it as a natural mean of self-defense. Features such as retractable claws or teeth are also quite common, although for a more offensive use. More rarely, some creatures will be able to retract their legs or arms inside their body itself; in that case, it will most often be a case of either having Bizarre Alien Biology or being an Eldritch Abomination.

Aside from those uses, Retractable Appendages can also serve the purpose of camouflage, whether for the purpose of avoiding Fantastic Racism or as a way of Dressing as the Enemy. Most common examples include the fangs of vampires, the horns and wings of demonic beings, the abnormal features of mutants, and the extra limbs of human-looking aliens. When Played for Laughs, expect Power Incontinence to strike, with the character revealing their hidden appendages at the worst possible times, and trying desperately to hide them.


This trope is actually often found in Real Life. Among the most well-known examples are turtles and snails, which are able to retract their limbs within their shellsnote , with the latter also able to retract their eyes and horns inside their body. On the same note, felines, especially cats, are known for their retractable claws. As such, if a fictional creature is based on one of these animals, they will most likely inherit this ability.

Your mileage may vary on whether this ability is to be considered Nightmare Fuel or Extremely Awesome when applied to human beings.

Compare Wolverine Claws and Retractable Weapon. See also Telescoping Robot for the mechanical version of this trope.



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    Anime & Manga 
  • Neiz from the Dragon Ball movie Cooler's Revenge who has the ability to retract his head into his body like that of a turtle.

    Comic Books 

     Fan Works 
  • Minor example in The Keys Stand Alone: The Soft World when George becomes a nixie for a while. Paul notices that he doesn't have any genitalia in that form, and George deadpans, “It retracts. If I leave it out it attracts fish. It's useful to bring dinner over. Would you like to see it in action?” Paul can't tell if George is serious or not.

    Film - Animated 
  • In the film Lilo & Stitch, Stitch demonstrates this ability when taking refuge in a dog pound as seen above.
  • Toothless from How to Train Your Dragon has retractable teeth, hence his name. In the sequel, he is revealed to also have retractable scales along his spine.
  • The electronic devices in The Brave Little Toaster all have retractable faces, with the exception of Radio, who for some reason actually doesn't have a face.

    Film - Live-Action 
  • Inspector Gadget 2 has this happen to Gadget when he ducks a punch in the face at a bar.
  • In The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Zaphod retracts one of his heads into his chest from time to time.
  • Kaiju movies starring Gamera, the flying turtle. Gamera can retract all four of his legs into his shell, then cause fire to spray out of the holes, allowing him to spin around and fly. He can retract his head into his shell the same way, and often does so while flying.
  • An early Stephen Chow movie, The Royal Tramp, involved a battle with the Made of Iron villain who could even retract his manparts. But Stephen's character, having grown up in a brothel, learned how to counteract this by shoving something up the backdoor.
  • The title characters of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1990) all have the ability to do this. During the final Foot battle of the film, Mikey retracts his head into his shell to keep it from being taken off by a Foot mook's axe. "God, I love being a turtle!"

  • The Future Is Wild has the Flish with a retractable second mouth.
    • Slickribbons have the Flishes retractability brought Up to Eleven.
  • In the James Bond book You Only Live Twice Bond visits a Japanese martial arts training facility, where the fighters have been trained to retract their testes, making them invulnerable to a groin attack. You really do this (if you're a male), but to a lesser extent than they show in the book.
  • In The City and the Stars by Arthur C. Clarke, future humanity has been engineered so that male genitalia are stored internally when not in use.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Dungeons & Dragons. Giant Snapping Turtles are noted as being able to retract their legs and head into their shell, thus improving their armor class.

    Video Games 

    Web Originals 
  • A fun image on Neopets reveals Cybunnies can retract their heads into their body.

    Western Animation 
  • Lilo & Stitch has Stitch with retractable antennae, back spines, claws, and second pair of arms.
  • Filburt from Rocko's Modern Life. Justified that he is a turtle.
  • Gary from SpongeBob SquarePants also justified knowing he's a snail.
    • Also happens to Craig Mammalton in the episode "Sun Bleached".
    • Also happens to Patrick in the episode "Not Normal".
  • CatDog has the titular character retract its body like a snail, there's only one episode where the play it rather... Gruesomely.
  • Shendu from Jackie Chan Adventures normally has arms and legs, but for some reason he actually loses both after being turned into a statue thousands of years ago. He eventually gets his arms and legs back once he's been reverted back from his statue form.

    Real Life 
  • Most species of turtles and tortoises are able to retract their legs and neck inside of their shell.
  • Snails can retract their whole body inside their shell. Moreover, they are also able to retract their eyes and horns inside their body.


Example of: