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Proc Biol Sci. 2004 May 7;271(1542):909-18.

Postural role of lateral axial muscles in developing bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus).

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  • 1Biological Sciences, University of North Carolina at Wilmington, Wilmington, NC 28403, USA.


Foetal dolphins (Tursiops truncatus) are bent ventrolaterally, such that the tailflukes and lower jaw are juxtaposed. The lateral flexibility required en utero may compromise the efficiency of the dorsoventral oscillations required of the swimming neonate. The m. intertransversarius caudae dorsalis (IT) is the most laterally placed epaxial muscle. Bilateral contractions of the IT could limit lateral deformations of the flexible tailstock of the early neonate. We test the hypothesis that the IT is functioning as a postural muscle in neonates by examining its morphological, histological and biochemical properties. The neonatal IT has a relatively large cross-sectional area and bending moment, as well as a large proportion of slow-twitch fibres and elevated myoglobin concentrations. Our results demonstrate that the IT is functionally capable of performing this specific postural function in neonatal dolphins. In later life-history stages, when postural control is no longer needed, the IT serves to fine-tune the position of the tailstock during locomotion. The changing function of the adult IT is concomitant with changes in morphology and biochemistry, and most notably, with an increase in the proportion of fast-twitch fibres. We suggest that these changes reflect strong selective pressure to improve locomotor abilities by limiting lateral deformations during this critical life-history stage.

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