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By most accounts, the upper limb of the chimpanzee is primarily adapted to suspensory postures and locomotion. In order to determine how the derived morphology of the chimpanzee forelimb has affected the form of quadrupedal locomotion displayed by these animals, electromyographic activity patterns of 10 shoulder muscles during knuckle-walking in two chimpanzee subjects were analysed and compared to data on the opossum and cat taken from the literature. Telemetered electromyography coupled with simultaneous video recording was employed in order to study unfettered locomotion in the chimpanzee subjects.

Chimpanzees are characterized by a quadrupedal gait in which the hind limb overstrides the ipsilateral forelimb. Forelimb position in the plane of abduction/adduction is significantly affected by whether the hind limb passes inside or outside its ipsilateral forelimb. The degree of abduction adduction of the forelimb, in turn, influences many of the muscle activity patterns. That is, some muscles would be more frequently or less frequently active, depending on whether the arm was relatively abducted or adducted during a stride. Thus, there can be no single motor programme that generates the step cycle in chimpanzees.

While there are some parallels between muscle recruitment patterns for chimpanzee, opossum and cat quadrupedalism, the results of this study also indicate that many aspects of muscle use in chimpanzees have been significantly influenced by factors related to increased mobility of the upper limb. Finally, this study has revealed that moving the arm forward during swing phase of knuckle-walking is not a simple product of muscular elTort. and that other mechanisms must be involved. However, it is unclear at present exactly what these mechanisms may be.