Comparative study of the forelimbs of the semifossorial prairie dog, Cynomys gunnisoni, and the scansorial fox squirrel, Sciurus niger

J Morphol. 1984 Apr;180(1):55-68. doi: 10.1002/jmor.1051800107.


A comparative study of the forelimbs of the semifossorial prairie dog, Cynomys gunnisoni , and the scansorial tree squirrel, Sciurus niger, was focused on the musculoskeletal design for digging in the former and climbing in the latter. Based on lever arm mechanics, it was expected that the forelimb of the prairie dog would show features appropriate to the production of relatively large forces and that of the fox squirrel to relatively great velocity. Force and lever arm measurements were made of select forelimb muscles at the shoulder, elbow, and wrist joints for a series of angles in both species. Contraction time and fatigue indexes were determined for the same forelimb muscles. Contrary to expectation, in the few cases in which significant (P less than .05) differences were found, the forces, lever arms, and torques (force times its lever arm) were greater in the smaller fox squirrel. The observed variation in the torques produced fits the demands on the forelimb during climbing and digging as estimated from films. Several forelimb muscles of the fox squirrel show significantly higher mean contraction times than do the homologous muscles of the prairie dog. There were no significant differences between the two species in the fatigability of the selected forelimb muscles, although the mean fatigue index was always higher (less fatigable muscle) in the prairie dog. Similarities in the forelimbs of these two sciurids suggest that only minor modifications may have been required of the ancestral forelimb in order for descendent forms to operate successfully as climbers and diggers .

Publication types

  • Comparative Study

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Behavior, Animal
  • Biological Evolution
  • Biomechanical Phenomena
  • Dogs / anatomy & histology*
  • Female
  • Forelimb / anatomy & histology*
  • Forelimb / physiology
  • Locomotion
  • Male
  • Muscle Contraction
  • Sciuridae / anatomy & histology*