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J Exp Biol. 1995;198(Pt 12):2477-90.

Epaxial muscle function during locomotion in a lizard (Varanus salvator) and the proposal of a key innovation in the vertebrate axial musculoskeletal system


The pattern of electromyographic activity in the epaxial muscles of walking and running lizards (water monitors, Varanus salvator) was quantified with high-speed video and synchronized electromyography. Muscle denervation experiments were performed and ground reaction forces were recorded to evaluate hypotheses of muscle function. Water monitors exhibit unilateral, uniphasic activation of the epaxial muscles ipsilateral to rear limb support. The iliocostalis and longissimus dorsi muscles are active throughout the support phase of the rear limb, while the transversospinalis is active only during the second half of the support phase. The timing of muscle activity does not support the presumed locomotor function of the epaxial muscles of lizards (lateral bending of the trunk). Bilateral denervation of the two most lateral epaxial muscles (iliocostalis and longissimus dorsi) caused no significant change in the amplitude of lateral trunk bending. These two epaxial muscles do not appear to be necessary for lateral bending of the trunk, nor do they appear to be involved in resisting lateral bending of the trunk. On the basis of the data reported in this study, as well as a re-evaluation of previously existing data, it is proposed that the locomotor function of the epaxial muscles of lizards is to stabilize the trunk against the vertical component of the ground reaction forces; i.e. the epaxial muscles function in a postural role during locomotion in lizards, as they do in other amniotes. This proposed postural role of the epaxial muscles may represent a key innovation of amniotes, made possible by the loss of an aquatic larval stage in their common ancestor.

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