Acta Biotheoretica

, Volume 34, Issue 2–4, pp 165–174 | Cite as

The legs of ostriches (Struthio) and moas (Pachyornis)

  • R. McNeill Alexander


Ostriches were filmed running at maximum speed, and forces on the feet were calculated. Measurements were made of the principal structures in the legs of an ostrich. Hence peak stresses in muscles, tendons and bones were calculated. They lay within the range of stresses calculated for strenuous activities of other vertebrates. The ostrich makes substantial savings of energy in running, by elastic storage in stretched tendons.

Pachyornis was a flightless bird, much heavier than ostriches and with massively thick leg bones. These bones are shorter than predicted for its estimated body mass, by extrapolation from allometric equations for flying birds. An attempt is made to calculate the stresses that acted in the leg bones in running, for all possible patterns of leg movement. The stresses were probably rather low, unless Pachyornis was capable of running fast. It is argued that the optimum factor of safety for moo leg bones may have been exceptionally high, as a consequence of the absence of predators.


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Copyright information

© Martinus Nijhoff/Dr W. Junk Publishers 1985

Authors and Affiliations

  • R. McNeill Alexander
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Pure and Applied ZoologyUniversity of LeedsLeedsEngland

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