The evolution of femoral osteology and soft tissues on the line to extant birds (Neornithes)

Authors

  • JOHN R. HUTCHINSON

    Corresponding author
    1. Department of Integrative Biology and Museum of Paleontology, 3060 Valley Life Sciences Building, University of California, Berkeley, CA 94720-3140, USA
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E-mail: jrhutch@socrates.berkeley.edu

Abstract

Femoral osteology and soft tissues evolved in a stepwise pattern in archosauromorph reptiles on the line to crown group birds. Crocodylia retains most ancestral archosaurian traits, whereas Dinosauromorpha (including birds) acquired many more derived traits. The complex sequence of changes included major shifts of several thigh muscle insertions. Medial rotation of the proximal femur (e.g. the femoral head) in archosaurs moved the greater trochanter laterally, bringing along the insertion of M. pubo-ischio-femoralis externus. Within Dinosauromorpha, the lesser trochanter moved proximally away from the trochanteric shelf. Presumably the lesser trochanter indicates the insertion of M. iliotrochantericus caudalis whereas the trochanteric shelf indicates the insertion of M. iliofemoralis externus. An accessory trochanter at the base of the lesser trochanter marks the insertion of M. pubo-ischio-femoralis internus 2 in tetanuran theropods. I propose hypotheses for the homologies of several intermuscular lines and other features on the femoral shaft. On the line to Neornithes, most changes of femoral morphology predated Aves and the origin of flight; few femoral features are unique to birds. Overall, the pattern of morphological evolution is consistent with stepwise functional evolution of the hindlimb within Dinosauromorpha on the line to Neornithes. The clade Ornithurae evolved the last few hindlimb apomorphies that characterize extant birds, in conjunction with more flexed hip and knee joints.

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