Chiropteran tendon locking mechanism

J Morphol. 1993 May;216(2):197-208. doi: 10.1002/jmor.1052160207.


Rather than the usual mammalian scheme in which tendon and sheath surfaces provide as little friction as possible, the tendons and sheaths of many bats have a locking segment on the manual and pedal flexor tendon complex. This tendon locking mechanism (TLM) exists opposite the proximal phalanges of each toe and pollex of many bats. Its structure, similar to a ratchet mechanism, assists bats in hanging with little muscular effort. The third digit of the pelvic limb and the pollex of species representing 15 chiropteran families were studied to determine the presence or absence, morphology, and function of the TLM. Most of the species studied have a TLM consisting of a patch of tubercles on the ventral surface of the flexor tendon associated with the proximal phalanx of each pollex or toe. The sheath adjacent to this portion of the flexor tendon has a series of transverse folds or ridges, which, when engaged with the tubercles on the tendon, lock the tendon in place. The TLM is similar in megachiropterans and microchiropterans possessing it. The TLM is absent, however, in some of the microchiropterans studied, most notably in the phyllostomids. Since many birds have a TLM similar to that of bats, it is an excellent example of the convergent evolution of a feature brought about by similar functional pressures on birds and bats.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biological Evolution
  • Chiroptera / anatomy & histology
  • Chiroptera / classification
  • Chiroptera / physiology*
  • Microscopy, Electron, Scanning
  • Tendons / anatomy & histology
  • Tendons / physiology*
  • Tendons / ultrastructure