Although Pleurodiran turtles represent an important component of extant turtle radiation, our knowledge of the development and homology of limb bones in turtles rests mostly upon observations made on derived members of the Cryptodiran clade. Herein, we describe limb development in three pleurodirans: Podocnemis unifilis Troschel, 1848, Podocnemis sextuberculata Cornalia, 1849 and Phrynops hilarii (Dumeril and Bibron, 1835), in an effort to contribute to filling this anatomical gap. For earlier stages of limb development, we described the Y-shaped condensation that gave rise to the zeugopodial cartilages, and differentiation of the primary axis/digital arch that reveals the invariant pattern common to tetrapods. There are up to four central cartilaginous foci in the carpus, and the proximal tarsale is formed by the fusion of the fibulare, intermedium, and centrale 4. Digital development is similar for the five digits. Changes in toe V occur predominantly in the distal tarsale 5. Ontogenetic reduction of phalanges is observed in toe V of Podocnemis. Based on these results, we suggest that the hooked element present in the chelonian tarsus, and traditionally recognized as a modified fifth metatarsale, is actually the fifth distal tarsale. Additionally, our data on limb development of pleurodiran turtles supply more taxonomically comprehensive information to interpret limb configuration within the chelonian clade. © 2009 The Linnean Society of London, Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society, 2009, 155, 845–866.