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Radiographics. 2008 Mar-Apr;28(2):501-10. doi: 10.1148/rg.282075061.

Paws for thought: comparative radiologic anatomy of the mammalian forelimb.

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Radiology Department, Royal Free Hospital, Pond St, London NW3 2QG, United Kingdom.


All mammals share a remarkably similar skeleton based on a common template. This commonality is particularly well illustrated by the versatile pentadactyl limb, upon which all mammalian limbs are based. For most mammals, the primary function of the forelimb is locomotion. The forelimb has been successfully adapted in mammals of all sizes and in terrestrial, arboreal, aquatic, and airborne environments. In primates, the forelimbs have developed such that speed and stamina have been sacrificed for an increased range of movement, which in turn has provided increased manual dexterity. For instance, chimpanzee hands are pronated and the fingers are flexed, and the phalanges are longer and exhibit much more robust insertion areas for flexor tendons. Ungulates (hoofed mammals), on the other hand, have evolved to maximize speed and stamina in quadrupedal locomotion. The two main orders of ungulates have elongated phalanges and metacarpals; all ungulates have lost the first metacarpal. The cat family represents some of the most highly evolved predators. Cats' forelimbs are designed for speed, power, and acceleration rather than for stamina; they maintain all five metacarpals and phalanges, although the first digit is relatively small.

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