, Volume 109, Issue 5, pp 281-293

The digital tendon locking mechanism of the avian foot (Aves)

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Summary

Representatives of all avian orders were studied in order to establish that the tendon-locking mechanism (TLM), consisting of local specialization of the flexor tendons and the adjacent portion of the flexor tendon sheath, is by no means rare, but rather, constitutes the prevalent condition in a large majority of the avian species sampled. The areas of tubercles on the tendons and the adjacent sheath plications intermesh with one another thereby forming a true tendon-locking mechanism that maintains the distal and other interphalangeal joints of the digits in the flexed position. The TLM seems to function not only in perching, but in a wide variety of other activities of the avian foot including swimming, wading, prey-grasping, clinging, hanging, and tree climbing. The basic structural components of the mechanism are remarkably similar in the divergent avian groups adapted for these activities. Ultrastructural detail of the TLM was studied by means of scanning and transmission electron microscopy. Interdigital variation in distribution of the TLM in all of the digits of individuals were made as were comparisons of the interspecific distribution of the TLM. An analysis of the biomechanics involved in engaging the elements of the TLM and how they produce locking of the flexed joints of the digits includes a consideration of the roles of the podothecal pads, ungual flexor processes, and the elastic flexor and extensor ligaments of the toes. The components of the TLM are differentiated in early fetal development establishing that the TLM components are not acquired adventitiously in response to such factors as posthatching mechanical stresses.