Functional specialisation of the thoracic limb of the hare (Lepus europeus)

J Anat. 2007 Apr;210(4):491-505. doi: 10.1111/j.1469-7580.2007.00703.x.


We provide quantitative anatomical data on the muscle-tendon architecture of the hare thoracic limb (specifically muscle mass, fascicle length, pennation angle, tendon mass and length). In addition, moment arms of major thoracic limb muscles were measured. Maximum isometric force and power of muscles, the moment of force about a joint, and tendon stress and strain were estimated. Data are compared with those from other cursorial mammals. The thoracic limb of the hare consists predominantly of extrinsic musculature with long parallel fascicles, specialised for generating force over a large range. A large shoulder flexor/elbow extensor muscle mass is present, in particular Triceps brachii. The pennate nature of the long head of this muscle suggests it has an important role in stabilising the elbow joint during stance, whilst moment arm curves suggest that it may also play a role in initiating shoulder flexion. In addition, Supraspinatus and Infraspinatus are capable of generating high forces, potentially to stabilise the shoulder joint during the stance phase of locomotion. Supraspinatus may in addition play an important role in forelimb protraction. The Subscapularis muscle was capable of generating surprisingly high forces, suggesting that the hare must be able to withstand/produce high forces during activities that need medio-lateral stability, such as turning. Distally, tendons were relatively short, showing little potential for elastic energy storage when compared with both their pelvic limb counterparts and their equivalents in the horse thoracic limb. Thus, a 'stiffer' thoracic limb may be beneficial in terms of behaving like a strut, simply supporting and deflecting the body during high-speed running. This more distal/less proximal distribution of limb mass is also likely to be important in retaining the manipulative/adaptive/non-locomotor capabilities of the limb.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Physiological*
  • Animals
  • Biomechanical Phenomena
  • Forelimb / anatomy & histology*
  • Forelimb / physiology
  • Gait*
  • Hares / anatomy & histology*
  • Hares / physiology
  • Isometric Contraction
  • Joints / anatomy & histology
  • Joints / physiology
  • Movement
  • Muscle, Skeletal / anatomy & histology
  • Muscle, Skeletal / physiology
  • Tendons / anatomy & histology
  • Tendons / physiology