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J Anat. 2006 Jan;208(1):35-45.

Geometric morphometrics of the shoulder girdle in extant turtles (Chelonii).

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Muséum National d'Histoire Naturelle, Paris, France.


The aim of this study was to identify shape patterns of the shoulder girdle in relation to different functional and environmental behaviours in turtles. The Procrustes method was used to compare the shoulder girdles (scapula and coracoid) of 88 adult extant turtles. The results indicate that four shape patterns can be distinguished. The shoulder girdles of (1) terrestrial (Testudinidae), (2) highly aquatic freshwater (Trionychidae, Carettochelyidae) and (3) marine turtles (Cheloniidae, Dermochelyidae) correspond to three specialized morphological patterns, whereas the shoulder girdle of (4) semi-aquatic freshwater turtles (Bataguridae, Chelidae, Chelydridae, Emydidae, Kinosternidae, Pelomedusidae, Platysternidae, Podocnemididae) is more generalized. In terrestrial turtles, the long scapular prong and the short coracoid are associated with a domed shell and a mode of locomotion in which walking is predominant. By contrast, highly aquatic freshwater turtles share traits with marine turtles. In both, the short scapular prong and the long coracoid are associated with a flat shell, and swimming locomotion. The enlarged attachment sites of the biceps, coracobrachialis magnus, and supracoracoideus also give these strong swimmers a mechanical advantage during adduction and retraction of the arm. Increasing size leads to allometrical shape changes that emphasize mechanical efficiency both in terrestrial and in aquatic turtles.

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