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Front Zool. 2010 Jul 12;7:21. doi: 10.1186/1742-9994-7-21.

Three-dimensional kinematic analysis of the pectoral girdle during upside-down locomotion of two-toed sloths (Choloepus didactylus, Linné 1758).

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Institut für Spezielle Zoologie und Evolutionsbiologie mit Phyletischem Museum, Friedrich-Schiller-Universität, Erbertstrasse 1, 07743 Jena, Germany.



Theria (marsupials and placental mammals) are characterized by a highly mobile pectoral girdle in which the scapula has been shown to be an important propulsive element during locomotion. Shoulder function and kinematics are highly conservative during locomotion within quadrupedal therian mammals. In order to gain insight into the functional morphology and evolution of the pectoral girdle of the two-toed sloth we here analyze the anatomy and the three-dimensional (3D) pattern of shoulder kinematics during quadrupedal suspensory ('upside-down') locomotion.


We use scientific rotoscoping, a new, non-invasive, markerless approach for x-ray reconstruction of moving morphology (XROMM), to quantify in vivo the 3D movements of all constituent skeletal elements of the shoulder girdle. Additionally we use histologic staining to analyze the configuration of the sterno-clavicular articulation (SCA).


Despite the inverse orientation of the body towards gravity, sloths display a 3D kinematic pattern and an orientation of the scapula relative to the thorax similar to pronograde claviculate mammalian species that differs from that of aclaviculate as well as brachiating mammals. Reduction of the relative length of the scapula alters its displacing effect on limb excursions. The configuration of the SCA maximizes mobility at this joint and demonstrates a tensile loading regime between thorax and limbs.


The morphological characteristics of the scapula and the SCA allow maximal mobility of the forelimb to facilitate effective locomotion within a discontinuous habitat. These evolutionary changes associated with the adoption of the suspensory posture emphasized humeral influence on forelimb motion, but allowed the retention of the plesiomorphic 3D kinematic pattern.

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