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Comparative osteology, myology, and locomotor specializations of the fore and hind limbs of the North American foxes Vulpes vulpes and Urocyon cinereoargenteus

Susan Feeney, University of Massachusetts Amherst


Canids have long been considered to be conservative in their postcranial anatomy, so there are few studies examining individual canid taxa for locomotor adaptations. Canids are generally considered to be the most cursorial of the carnivorans. The limbs of large canids are generally adapted for rapid terrestrial locomotion, as these animals frequently rely on speed for prey capture. The prey animal is captured and killed using the jaws and teeth. Smaller canids, such as the red fox Vulpes and gray fox Urocyon, do not use their limbs primarily for fast running. The red fox appears to have many adaptations for running, including long slender legs, but these foxes do not run in their daily activities except when chased. The red fox uses its forelimbs to help in prey capture and its hind legs for leaping. The gray fox is an unusual canid since it regularly climbs trees. The limbs of the gray fox, especially the forelimb, are utilized in climbing. This dissertation contains a detailed description of the postcranial osteology and myology Vulpes and Urocyon cinercoargenteus and includes an analysis of these anatomical features in a functional framework. An examination of both the osteology and myology of the fore and hind limbs of these two foxes reveals that their behavior is reflected in a number of anatomical characters. Adaptations for leaping in the red fox include the presence of unusually long hind legs relative to the front legs, and an increase in the length of the distal bony limb elements relative to more proximal ones. In addition, the limb bones are very slender. Muscle bellies of tarsal and digital flexors and extensors are restricted to a proximal position on the limb, and muscles in general are emphasized that act along the long axis of the limbs. Adaptations of the gray fox for climbing include the presence of relatively short legs, a greater ability to rotate the radius on the ulna relative to other canids, and a relatively greater ability to abduct the hind limb. In addition, both red and gray foxes are able to retract their claws, an ability that is not generally associated with canids.

Subject Area

Anatomy & physiology|Zoology|Anatomy & physiology|Animals

Recommended Citation

Feeney, Susan, "Comparative osteology, myology, and locomotor specializations of the fore and hind limbs of the North American foxes Vulpes vulpes and Urocyon cinereoargenteus" (1999). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI9920598.