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Abstract

Many arachnids lack extensor muscles at the femoropatellar (knee) joint of their legs and extend this joint with hydraulic pressure during locomotion. Pressure is generated through compression of the prosoma, but there is disagreement about which muscles are involved in this process. Many arachhnologists consider contraction of the musculi laterales, a group of modified extrinsic leg muscles, as the cause of high prosomal pressure and regard hydraulic extension as a derived feature. However, integration of results from phylogenetic and comparative anatomical studies supports the view that hydraulic extension is primitive in Arachnida and that fluid pressure is generated by contraction of endosternal suspensor muscles.

The functional predictions of the musculi laterales and endosternite hypotheses were tested by measuring muscle activity and prosomal pressure during unrestrained locomotion in a primitively “extensorless” arachnid, the giant whipscorpion. The results corroborate the endosternite model and refute the musculi laterales model. Changes in the prosomal pressure baseline were correlated with changes in endosternal muscle activity, while the musculi laterales fired in a step-coupled pattern of discrete bursts that appeared to be incapable of generating the pressure observed during locomotion. Step-coupled fluctuations in prosomal pressure were observed but were apparently caused by rapid flexing of the femoropatellar joints of the fourth leg pair rather than contraction of the musculi laterales.