Architectural specialization of the intrinsic thoracic limb musculature of the American badger (Taxidea taxus)

J Morphol. 2013 Jan;274(1):35-48. doi: 10.1002/jmor.20074. Epub 2012 Sep 15.


Evaluation of the relationships between muscle structure and digging function in fossorial species is limited. Badgers and other fossorial specialists are expected to have massive forelimb muscles with long fascicles capable of substantial shortening for high power and applying high out-force to the substrate. To explore this hypothesis, we quantified muscle architecture in the thoracic limb of the American badger (Taxidea taxus) and estimated the force, power, and joint torque of its intrinsic musculature in relation to the use of scratch-digging behavior. Architectural properties measured were muscle mass, belly length, fascicle length, pennation angle, and physiological cross-sectional area. Badgers possess hypertrophied shoulder flexors/humeral retractors, elbow extensors, and digital flexors. The triceps brachii is particularly massive and has long fascicles with little pennation, muscle architecture consistent with substantial shortening capability, and high power. A unique feature of badgers is that, in addition to elbow joint extension, two biarticular heads (long and medial) of the triceps are capable of applying high torques to the shoulder joint to facilitate retraction of the forelimb throughout the power stroke. The massive and complex digital flexors show relatively greater pennation and shorter fascicle lengths than the triceps brachii, as well as compartmentalization of muscle heads to accentuate both force production and range of shortening during flexion of the carpus and digits. Muscles of most functional groups exhibit some degree of specialization for high force production and are important for stabilizing the shoulder, elbow, and carpal joints against high limb forces generated during powerful digging motions. Overall, our findings support the hypothesis and indicate that forelimb muscle architecture is consistent with specializations for scratch-digging. Quantified muscle properties in the American badger serve as a comparator to evaluate the range of diversity in muscle structure and contractile function that exists in mammals specialized for fossorial habits.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Female
  • Forelimb / anatomy & histology*
  • Forelimb / physiology*
  • Joints / physiology
  • Male
  • Muscle, Skeletal / anatomy & histology
  • Muscle, Skeletal / physiology
  • Mustelidae / anatomy & histology*
  • Mustelidae / physiology