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, 26 (2), R58-R59

The Fast and Forceful Kicking Strike of the Secretary Bird

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The Fast and Forceful Kicking Strike of the Secretary Bird

Steven J Portugal et al. Curr Biol.

Abstract

The study of animal locomotion has uncovered principles that can be applied to bio-inspired robotics, prosthetics and rehabilitation medicine, while also providing insight into musculoskeletal form and function [1-4]. In particular, study of extreme behaviors can reveal mechanical constraints and trade-offs that have influenced evolution of limb form and function [1,2]. Secretary birds (Sagittarius serpentarius; Figure 1A) are large terrestrial birds of prey endemic to sub-Saharan Africa, which feed on snakes, lizards and small mammals [5]. They frequently kick and stamp on the prey's head until it is killed or incapacitated, particularly when dispatching larger lizards and venomous snakes [5]. The consequences of a missed strike when hunting venomous snakes can be deadly [5], so the kicking strikes of secretary birds require fast yet accurate neural control. Delivery of fast, forceful and accurate foot strikes that are sufficient to stun and kill prey requires precision targeting, demanding a high level of coordination between the visual and neuromuscular systems.

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