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Philos Trans R Soc Lond B Biol Sci. Sep 29, 2003; 358(1437): 1525–1533.
PMCID: PMC1693243

Bipedalism in lizards: whole-body modelling reveals a possible spandrel.


This paper illustrates how simple mechanical models based on morphological, ethological, ecological and phylogenetic data can add to discussions in evolutionary biology. Bipedal locomotion has evolved on numerous occasions in lizards. Traits that appear repeatedly in independent evolutionary lines are often considered adaptive, but the exact advantages of bipedal locomotion in lizards remain debated. Earlier claims that bipedalism would increase maximal running speed or would be energetically advantageous have been questioned. Here, we use 'whole body' mechanical modelling to provide an alternative solution to the riddle. The starting point is the intermittent running style combined with the need for a high manoeuvrability characterizing many small lizard species. Manoeuvrability benefits from a caudal shift of the centre of mass of the body (body-COM), because forces to change the heading and to align the body to this new heading do not conflict with each other. The caudally situated body-COM, however, might result in a lift of the front part of the body when accelerating (intermittent style), thus resulting in bipedal running bouts. Based on a momentum-impulse approach the effect of acceleration is quantified for a mechanical model, a virtual lizard (three segments) based on the morphometrics of Acanthodactylus erythrurus (a small lacertid lizard). Biologically relevant input (dimensions, inertial properties, step cycle information, etc.) results in an important lift of the front part of the body and observable distances passively covered bipedally as a consequence of the acceleration. In this way, no functional explanation of the phenomenon of lizard bipedalism is required and bipedalism can probably be considered non-adaptive in many cases. This does not exclude, however, some species that may have turned this consequence to their benefit. For instance, instantaneous manipulation of the position of the centre of the body-COM allows stable, persisting bipedal running. Once this was achieved, the bipedal spandrel could be exploited further.

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Selected References

These references are in PubMed. This may not be the complete list of references from this article.
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Articles from Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences are provided here courtesy of The Royal Society


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