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Most previous research on metamorphosis of the musculoskeletal system in vertebrates has focused on the transformation of the skeleton. In this paper we focus on the transformation of the muscles of the head during metamorphosis in tiger salamanders (Ambystoma tigrinum) in order (1) to provide new data on changes in myology during ontogeny, and (2) to aid in interpreting previous data on the metamorphosis of function in the head of salamanders.

The physiological cross-sectional area of nine head muscles was calculated by measuring fibre angles, fibre lengths, and muscle mass in two samples of tiger salamanders obtained just before and just after metamorphosis. The major mouth-opening muscles (rectus cervicis and depressor mandibulae) exhibit a significant decrease in estimated maximum tetanic tension (MTT) across metamorphosis of about 36%. The jaw-closing muscles (adductor mandibulae internus and externus) and the head-lifting muscles (epaxials) also decrease in MTT but not significantly. The muscles associated with tongue projection during feeding on land (the subarcualis rectus I, geniohyoideus, interhyoideus and intermandibularis) all show a slight increase in MTT at metamorphosis.

Metamorphic transformation of feeding behaviour in Ambystoma tigrinum involves changes in performance, the design of skeletal elements, changes in muscle force-generating capability, and changes in hydrodynamic design from unidirectional flow in larvae to bidirectional flow during aquatic feeding after metamorphosis. Although muscle activity patterns during aquatic feeding do not change across metamorphosis, tongue-based terrestrial feeding involves a suite of novel muscle activity patterns, morphological characters acquired at metamorphosis, and a metamorphic increase in the masses of muscles important in tongue projection.