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J Morphol. 1998 Oct;238(1):23-37.

Pelvic limb musculature in the emu Dromaius novaehollandiae (Aves: Struthioniformes: Dromaiidae): adaptations to high-speed running.

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  • 1School of Natural Sciences, Edith Cowan University, Mt. Lawley, Australia.


Emus provide an excellent opportunity for studying sustained high-speed running by a bird. Their pelvic limb musculature is described in detail and morphological features characteristic of a cursorial lifestyle are identified. Several anatomical features of the pelvic limb reflect the emus' ability for sustained running at high speeds: (1) emus have a reduced number of toes and associated muscles, (2) emus are unique among birds in having a M. gastrocnemius, the most powerful muscle in the shank, that has four muscle bellies, not the usual three, and (3) contribution to total body mass of the pelvic limb muscles of emus is similar to that of the flight muscles of flying birds, whereas the pelvic limb muscles of flying birds constitute a much smaller proportion of total body mass. Generally, the pelvic limb musculature of emus resembles that of other ratites with the notable exception of M. gastrocnemius. The presence and arrangement of four muscle bellies may increase the effectiveness of M. gastrocnemius and other muscles during cursorial locomotion by moving the limb in a cranio-caudal rather than a latero-medial plane.

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