Functional Morphology of the Aardvark Tail

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Abstract

The musculoskeletal system of the aardvark (Orycteropus afer) tail was morphologically examined in two adult specimens. The tail musculature comprised three muscular groups, viz. a dorsal sacrocaudal system that consisted of the irregularly oriented Musculus sacrocaudalis dorsalis medialis and M. sacrocaudalis dorsalis lateralis, a lateral inter-vertebral connecting system, and a ventral sacrocaudal system characterized by the thick M. sacrocaudalis ventralis lateralis and M. sacrocaudalis ventralis medialis. Both the dorsal and ventral systems possessed large tendon groups that strengthened the tail structure. Computed tomography (CT) examination showed the presence of large but homogeneous cartilaginous inter-vertebral discs, whereas V-shaped bones were situated at the ventral aspect of the caudal vertebrae at the level of the inter-vertebral discs. CT visualization of the tendons and V-shaped bones in various tail positions suggested that these structures contribute to the tunnel digging action by bearing the trunk weight and lending force when the aardvark are displacing the soil by means of the forelimbs.

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