Scaling of form and function in the xenarthran femur: a 100-fold increase in body mass is mitigated by repositioning of the third trochanter

Proc Biol Sci. 2012 Sep 7;279(1742):3449-56. doi: 10.1098/rspb.2012.0593. Epub 2012 Jun 6.


How animals cope with increases in body size is a key issue in biology. Here, we consider scaling of xenarthrans, particularly how femoral form and function varies to accommodate the size range between the 3 kg armadillo and its giant relative the 300 kg glyptodont. It has already been noted that femoral morphology differs between these animals and suggested that this reflects a novel adaptation to size increase in glyptodont. We test this idea by applying a finite element analysis of coronal plane forces to femoral models of these animals, simulating the stance phase in the hind limb; where the femur is subject to bending owing to longitudinal compressive as well as abduction loads on the greater trochanter. We use these models to examine the hypothesis that muscles attaching on the third trochanter (T3) can reduce this bending in the loaded femur and that the T3 forces are more effective at reducing bending in glyptodont where the T3 is situated at the level of the knee. The analysis uses traditional finite element methods to produce strain maps and examine strains at 200 points on the femur. The coordinates of these points before and after loading are also used to carry out geometric morphometric (GM) analyses of the gross deformation of the model in different loading scenarios. The results show that longitudinal compressive and abductor muscle loading increases bending in the coronal plane, and that loads applied to the T3 reduce that bending. In the glyptodont model, the T3 loads are more effective and can more readily compensate for the bending owing to longitudinal and abductor loads. This study also demonstrates the usefulness of GM methods in interpreting the results of finite element analyses.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biomechanical Phenomena
  • Body Weight
  • Cingulata / anatomy & histology
  • Cingulata / physiology*
  • Compressive Strength*
  • Femur / anatomy & histology
  • Femur / physiology*
  • Finite Element Analysis
  • Models, Biological
  • Muscle, Skeletal / physiology*
  • Species Specificity
  • Stress, Mechanical
  • Tensile Strength*
  • Tomography, X-Ray Computed