Posts Tagged ‘boids’

…a daily picture of anatomy!

Welcome to Freezermas! In the dead of winter, the WIJF blog jumps down your internet to deliver mind-warming science, and images, and evolution! To celebrate Charles Darwin’s birthday (204th = tomorrow Feb 12, 2013), I’m bringing you one Anatomy Vignette each day this week (we’ll see if I can manage the weekend or not)! Let’s do this!

Stomach-Churning Rating: 2/10; just bones; one picture of them, and then a lot of discussion of muscle anatomy but no pictures of it.


The above image comes from one of my old, somewhat obscure anatomy papers (link to pdf here), from 2003. It’s possibly the first figure I made, entirely by myself, that I’m sort of proud of. It doesn’t totally suck compared with some of my other attempts. I did the stippled line drawing on the left, and on the right is one of my first usages of a digital photo in a paper (digital cameras were finally up to the task around that time; I used my new Nikon Coolpix 900, if memory serves). It was a greatly improved figure over what I’d submitted for this paper originally, which was a rushed, half-baked manuscript for a SICB conference symposium on tendons. I’ll never forget one of the peer reviews of the manuscript, which said something like “the text of this paper is a joy to behold, but the figures are a horror.” They were right, and luckily the images in the paper I submitted changed a lot in revision. (I’m still embarrassed by the incident, though!)

Anyway, the picture is of  the lower hind limb of two theropod dinosaurs: (a,c) an adult Tyrannosaurus rex, and (b,d) a wild turkey (Meleagris) from my personal collections of dissected-then-skeletonized animals (this turkey became a biomechanical model in a 2004 paper of mine, too!).  In both cases we’re looking at a right hind limb; in (a) and (b) from a caudal/posterior/rear view, and in (c) and (d) from a lateral/side-on/profile view.

If you’re having trouble visualizing these bones in the real animal, check this T. rex skeleton in rear and side views and try to find these bones. You can do it! You might also want to look back at my paroxysmic outburst of love for knee joint anatomy.

The thicker long bone is the tibia (your main shank bone; or in a lamb shank, chicken drumstick, etc); the thinner outer bone is the fibula. Together with some smaller bones, for brevity we can call them the tibiotarsus — but only in theropod dinosaurs, or you will anger the freezer gods.

The labels show some cool anatomical features, as follows:

CC” the cranial cnemial crest of the tibia (a projection of bone unique to the knees of birds);

CF” the crista fibularis; or fibular crest; of the tibia (more about this below);

FT” the fibular tubercle (insertion of the big hamstring/biceps muscle M. iliofibularis);

LC” the lateral cnemial crest of the tibia (a big arching swath of bone that both birds and non-avian theropods like Tyrannosaurus have; the CC is just pasted on top of this in birds); and

MF” which denotes a muscle fossa (depression) on the inner surface of the upper end of the fibula, which presumably housed a muscle (M. popliteus) binding the fibula to the tibia in earlier dinosaurs, but is vestigial in birds.

The CF, or fibular crest, is a feature that only theropod dinosaurs, among reptiles, develop like this. It evolved early in their history and thus was passed on to birds with other ancient features like hollow bones and bipedalism. It binds the fibula closely appressed to the tibia, making those bones act more like a single functional unit –and sometimes they even fuse together. The CF also transmits forces from the whopping big M. iliofibularis muscle’s insertion (the FT label) across the puny fibula onto the robust tibia. The MF once held a muscle that also helped keep those two bones together, but additionally it could have contracted to move them relative to each other a little bit, as in other living animals (many mammals and reptiles have a big M. popliteus and/or M. interosse[o]us). So these features all have a common functional, anatomical and evolutionary (and developmental; different story for evo-devo fans) relationship. By binding the fibula and tibia together, these structures helped early bipeds (the first theropods and kin) support themselves on one leg at a time during standing and moving, and also helped begin to reduce the limbs to lighten them for easier, faster swinging. So we can think of these features as specializations that helped theropod dinosaurs, and ultimately birds, get established as bipedal animals.

The CC and LC have a similar story to tell; for one, they are muscle attachments, again mainly for thigh muscles. And again, the LC dates back to early theropods (and some other dinosaurs had a version of it; usually smaller). These crests serve mainly as insertions for the “quadriceps” (in human/mammal terms) or triceps (in reptile/bird terms) muscle group’s major tendon, spanning from the pelvis/femur across the thigh and knee to this region. In birds, we call this structure of insertion the patellar tendon or (less appropriately) ligament. But dinosaurs had no patella, ever, so the triceps femoris tendon would be the proper technical term. Regardless, that crest (LC, and later LC too) helped the attached muscles to straighten the knee joint or support body weight during standing/moving, by giving them better leverage. So it would have been important for early bipeds, too, like the CF, MF and other features above. Your cnemial crest (tibial tuberosity) is pathetic by comparison. Don’t even look at it. Droop your knees in primate shame!

Bumps and squiggles on bones might seem puny details just for anatomists to study and describe in long, tedious monographs, but each is part of the great story of evolution, and each has a story to tell that fits into that story. Back in Darwin’s day, some of the world’s greatest scientists of the age (Richard Owen and Thomas Huxley being but two spectacular examples) pored over these seemingly innocuous features, and so they became part of nascent evolutionary theory even then. This week, I’ll be celebrating a lot of those details, which I still feel are important today, and the stories they help to tell.

Happy Freezermas! Sing it: “On the first day of Freezermas, this blo-og gave to me: a tibiotarsus with a CF and FT!”

Read Full Post »

Hey, Americans and others happening to be gobbling down Meleagris gallopavo today– don’t forget to practice your anatomy! Such a great opportunity. Dig in to that carcass and horrify/amaze your family and friends! This pic might help you get started (info below if you want it), and is my WIJF blog wish of happiness to you all, today.

Stomach-Churning Rating: 6 out of 10; a small picture of some fresh turkey leg muscles, but not that bad really.

Click to embiggen.

Wondering what’s shown here?

On the left: an ossified (turned into bone!) tendon, probably part of the M. flexor perforans et perforatus group (a wickedly complex set of muscles that go from the knee region to the toes, and act mainly to flex the knee, extend the ankle and (plantar)flex the toes; i.e curl the toes up). What’s particularly cool is that, towards the top, you can see the divisions where the pennate (angled) fibers of the short, meaty muscle belly sat. If you are eating a turkey drumstick, you will be picking some of these out of the meat, although many turkeys seem to have fewer bony tendons due to human breeding and young age at slaughter.

In the middle, top: a crude experiment where we hung a frozen turkey’s body in a few different orientations to determine its centre of mass, important for biomechanical calculations. Mad science, but simple science.

In the middle, bottom: the right hip joint of a turkey in lateral (side) view, showing a few of the key muscles of the thigh. The ITC is M. (abbreviated Latin for Musculus) iliotrochantericus caudalis. Practice saying that (ill-ee-oh-tro-kan-tare-ick-us caw-dahl-iss) to impress your friends. It sits in a depression in the ilium (top pelvic bone), in front of the hip joint. The ITC is also important for helping birds to support their weight, as Steve Gatesy and I discussed in our 2000 Paleobiology paper. The ITC leaves a lovely crescent-shaped scar on the top of the femur (thigh bone). Show off your culinary skills by noting to your dinner party that this muscle is the best bit of the bird, AKA the “oyster”. (A little tip is here for how to find it; in a chicken but the anatomy is almost the same in a turkey)

The OM is the obturatorius medialis (obb-turr-ahh-tor-ee-us mee-dee-ahl-iss), an antagonist to the ITC, used to swing the leg. It is mostly hidden inside the pelvis so you just see its tendon (dotted line), and especially in turkeys (seriously, they have very nicely visible muscle attachments on their leg bones, for any bird!), a little knobby bit of bone that helps guide the tendon to keep it in its little groove on the femur. Unless you’re very industrious and break open the body cavity to excavate into the pelvis, you won’t be eating this muscle.

The IFE; M. iliofemoralis externus (ill-ee-oh-fem-oh-rahl-iss ex-ter-nuss); arching over the ITC and OM tendons, is a vestigial muscle, often lost in birds, and having little major function but helping a bit to draw the leg away from the body (abduction). Even though it is a puny muscle, it still has a nice little pit for its insertion on the femur. Turkeys are just cool that way. But it’s not much in the way of eating.

And now you know three of the ~40 main muscles of the avian leg, well done! 

I love these muscles not only because I did a lot of my PhD (and later) research on them, but also because they leave great scars on bird and other dinosaurian bones that allow us to reconstruct how muscles evolved. I better stop here or I’ll be writing for days… don’t wind me up further! 🙂

On the right: the foot of a turkey in front and back views. Lots of ossified tendons are visible if you squint. Why do birds only have ossified tendons below their knee joints, and why only some muscles in some birds, and not so commonly in most other species of land animals? This is one of those cool mysteries that remain for people doing evolutionary or biomechanics research to sort out.

Hope you enjoyed a quick anatomy tour with our pal Meleagris!

Read Full Post »

And so we return to the series of posts on non-frozen, but still anatomically awesome, specimens from the RVC’s Anatomy Museum. Refer to posts on dissections, skulls and the introduction if you missed the last three.

Today is for the birds. Feel free to cry fowl if you feel this post is a poultry sum of images. Oh I could go on with lame puns, but I am merciful…

We’ll start with what is presumably not a Norwegian Blue; presumably neither resting and certainly bereft of beautiful plumage, but nonetheless a remarkable bird and great fodder for a wide range of silly jokes:

Which provides us with a segue into our series of nicely mounted skeletons of domestic poultry, first with the super-sized American variety termed Meleagris:

And then with the less titanic but still impressive, fast-growing, large-breasted Gallus:

Which is a reminder of the non-defunct poultry that the RVC maintains, including a sporadic series of chickens that our lab hosts for our research (blog to come soon!), first shown in the fluffy 2 week old stage:

And what a difference 2 weeks makes!

But back to the museum. Perhaps in sympathy for the plight of broiler chickens, a local raptor hangs, wings akimbo, to display various external features:

Plodding along, and missing the cranial end of the skeleton in this photo (in John’s typical photography/research style; d’oh!) is a nice big Maribou stork:

Keeping the birds company is a fellow archosaur, which reminds me of WIJF’s previous post on pelvic differences in archosaurs; here an Alligator:

Nearby there is an ostrich pelvis for a similar comparison as in the latter post. And not far from that is a nice view of an ostrich foot, along with other birds’ feet in a display on perching/pedal adaptations:

For a really stunning image of an ostrich foot, check out this plastinated specimen (more pics like it here). We really like ostriches, so we also have an ostrich head and neck:

These ratite displays remind me of our emu flock that we are maintaining (not at the museum!), which is 13 strong at the moment and very cute at ~8 weeks of age (intriguingly, a similar ~3kg body mass to a 6-week old broiler chicken! But much leggier.):

If you happen to visit the Anatomy Museum to peruse plastinated poultry or oggle other oddities, save time for a stroll to the nearby Grant Museum of Zoology; one of London’s greatest natural history treasures (edit- see recent TetZoo blog post on this) — and one that is drenched in history. Great flightless bird exhibits, too, such as this kiwi:

Or a stunning assortment of dodo bones:

Or, coming full circle, an emu (or so I think… naughty John’s headless-photo bias at play again!).

And the emu will escort you to the exit. Thanks for visiting! We’re nearing the end of this series, so I hope you have enjoyed it.

Read Full Post »

Here is a little vignette for you; a taster of the BBSRC-funded chicken biomechanics project my team has underway in collaboration with Jonathan Codd’s team at Uni Manchester. I did not know about the following situation until a couple of years ago during my former PhD student (now postdoc) Heather Paxton‘s research on chicken mechanics.

Regard this chicken, slit open along the midline to show the viscera. The huge pectoralis muscles (breast meat) have been pushed aside; the right side’s are clumsily outlined (I blame caffeine?) in blue.

Then consider the heart, within the jagged, shamefully and ineptly drawn green circle. I’ll come back to that.

So this broiler chicken took 6 weeks to reach this size, of about 3 kilograms (6.6 lbs). Fifty years ago, before artificial selection was imposed on a MASSIVE scale (many billions of chickens per year worldwide, bred in a complex pyramid scheme of crossed strains), that same chicken strain would have taken 15 weeks to reach a normal slaughter mass of roughly 2 kg (4.4 lbs). The major selection, of course, has been for edible meat, especially that lovely breast muscle’s white meat.

If we look at red junglefowl, to a large degree the “wild type” ancestors of domestic chickens that are native to southeast Asia, the leg muscles take up about 7.7% body mass per leg vs. about 6.3% in the broiler. Just a small decrease, but probably an important one, and something our research focuses a lot on (walking ability, lameness, activity levels etc). But that’s a subject for a future post. In stark contrast, the breast muscles (back to the blue ellipse above)  have gone from 7% to up to 11.6% body mass per wing; a huge change!

Now let’s return to another large muscle, the one within the green circle above; the heart. Not only must the heart, which has become relatively larger by perhaps 25%, pump blood to a body that has enlarged by >50%, but it also must perfuse the giant pectoral muscles, which have enlarged by >65%.

Herein lies the problem… You probably can predict what happens.

Several syndromes may develop, but the one I want to cover here is called deep pectoral myopathy (AKA “Oregon disease” or better yet “green muscle disease”, a very appropriate term as you’ll see below). Basically, the giant pectoralis muscles receive inadequate blood flow from the smallish heart, because the muscles are so big and under so much pressure, creating resistance to flow, and so the muscles begin dying from within. A picture tells the story:

While surely uncomfortable for the birds and hence a welfare problem, it is usually not found until the animals are slaughtered, and then of course the meat is destroyed rather than delivered for human consumption. Because of the welfare problems and loss of meat (i.e. financial loss), the poultry industry is trying to remedy this problem. W’e’re working on aspects of this as well, as part of our study of how the locomotor and ventilatory systems of chickens develop and have evolved.

I am blogging this as a great example of how anatomy can go haywire and become imbalanced when evolutionary selection pressures are intense and highly specific (e.g. almost single-minded human selection for large breast muscle). It is also a conundrum that human society faces: while chicken meat seems more efficient and more ecologically sound than some other meats, and there is growing demand for meat as the human population grows, how do we balance welfare concerns with food security, economics and other factors? And how do we judge when artificial selection has gone too far? I do not present an answer because the answer is not easy, and because my team is still learning about how to answer it.

Read Full Post »

« Newer Posts