Muscle architecture and out-force potential of the thoracic limb in the Eastern mole (Scalopus aquaticus)

J Morphol. 2013 Nov;274(11):1277-87. doi: 10.1002/jmor.20178. Epub 2013 Aug 2.


Moles have modified thoracic limbs with hypertrophied pectoral girdle muscles that allow them to apply remarkably high lateral out-forces during the power stroke when burrowing. To further understand the high force capabilities of mole forelimbs, architectural properties of the thoracic limb muscles were quantified in the Eastern mole (Scalopus aquaticus). Architectural properties measured included muscle mass, moment arm, belly length, fascicle length, and pennation angle, and these were used to provide estimates of maximum isometric force, joint torque, and power. Measurements of muscle moment arms and limb lever lengths were additionally used to analyze the out-force contributions of the major pectoral girdle muscles. Most muscles have relatively long fascicles and little-to-no pennation. The humeral abductor/rotators as a functional group are massive and are capable of relatively high force, power, and joint torque. Of this group, the bipennate m. teres major is the most massive and has the capacity to produce the highest force and joint torque to abduct and axially rotate the humerus. In general, the distal limb muscles are relatively small, but have the capacity for high force and mechanical work by fascicle shortening. The muscle architectural properties of the elbow extensors (e.g., m. triceps brachii) and carpal flexors (e.g., m. palmaris longus) are consistent with the function of these muscles to augment lateral out-force application. The humeral abductor/rotators m. latissimus dorsi, m. teres major, m. pectoralis, and m. subscapularis are calculated to contribute 13.9 N to out-force during the power stroke, and this force is applied in a 'frontal' plane causing abduction of the humerus about the sternoclavicular joint. Moles have several specializations of their digging apparatus that greatly enhance the application of out-force, and these morphological features suggest convergence on limb form and burrowing function between New and Old World moles.

Keywords: Scalopus; architecture; burrowing; force; mole; muscle.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biomechanical Phenomena
  • Forelimb / anatomy & histology*
  • Forelimb / physiology
  • Humerus / anatomy & histology
  • Joints / anatomy & histology
  • Joints / physiology
  • Moles / anatomy & histology*
  • Moles / physiology
  • Muscle, Skeletal / anatomy & histology*
  • Muscle, Skeletal / physiology