Birds are diverse and agile vertebrates capable of aerial, terrestrial, aquatic, and arboreal locomotion. Evidence suggests that birds possess a novel balance sensing organ in the lumbosacral spinal canal, a structure referred to as the "lumbosacral organ" (LSO), which may contribute to their locomotor agility and evolutionary success. The mechanosensing mechanism of this organ remains unclear. Here we quantify the 3D anatomy of the lumbosacral region of the common quail, focusing on establishing the geometric and biomechanical properties relevant to potential mechanosensing functions. We combine digital and classic dissection to create a 3D anatomical model of the quail LSO and estimate the capacity for displacement and deformation of the soft tissues. We observe a hammock-like network of denticulate ligaments supporting the lumbosacral spinal cord, with a close association between the accessory lobes and ligamentous intersections. The relatively dense glycogen body has the potential to apply loads sufficient to pre-stress denticulate ligaments, enabling external accelerations to excite tuned oscillations in the LSO soft tissue, leading to strain-based mechanosensing in the accessory lobe neurons. Considering these anatomical features together, the structure of the LSO is reminiscent of a mass-spring-based accelerometer.
© The Author(s) 2020. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology.