Fiber type homogeneity of the flight musculature in small birds

Comp Biochem Physiol B Biochem Mol Biol. 2009 Apr;152(4):324-31. doi: 10.1016/j.cbpb.2008.12.013. Epub 2009 Jan 1.


Studies of medium- and large-bodied avian species have suggested that variation in flight muscle composition is related to differences in flight behavior. For example, slow-twitch or tonic fibers are generally found only in the flight muscles of non-volant or soaring/gliding birds. However, we know comparatively little about fiber composition of the muscles of the smallest birds. Here we describe the fiber composition of muscles from the wings, shoulders, and legs of two small avian species, which also display very high wingbeat frequencies: Anna's hummingbirds (Calypte anna) and zebra finches (Taeniopygia guttata). All flight muscles examined in both species contained exclusively fast oxidative glycolytic (FOG) fibers. These unique results suggest that fast oxidative fibers are both necessary and sufficient for the full range of flight behaviors in these small-bodied birds. Like all other studied birds, the zebra finch gastrocnemius, a tarsometatarsal extensor, contained a mixture of FOG (27.1%), slow oxidative (SO, 12.7%), and fast glycolytic (FG, 60.2%) fibers. By contrast, the hummingbird gastrocnemius lacked FG fibers (85.5% FOG, 14.5% SO), which may reflect the reduced role of the hindlimb during take-off. We further hypothesize that thermogenic requirements constrain fiber type heterogeneity in these small endothermic vertebrates.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Birds / anatomy & histology*
  • Birds / physiology*
  • Flight, Animal / physiology*
  • Glycolysis
  • Male
  • Muscle Fibers, Skeletal / metabolism
  • Muscle Fibers, Skeletal / physiology*
  • Species Specificity