Hind foot drumming : morphofunctional analysis of the hind limb osteology in three species of African mole‐rats (Bathyergidae)

27 Mar 2020

Hind foot drumming is a form of seismic signaling that plays a vital role in the communication of several Bathyergidae species. Hind foot drumming is initiated by the rapid movement of the whole hind limb by flexion and extension of the hip and knee. This study aimed to determine if morphological adaptations of the hind limb osteology were measurable using established morphometric analyses in two drumming (Bathyergus suillus and Georychus capensis) and one non‐drumming (Cryptomys hottentotus natalensis) African mole‐rat species. Forty‐three linear measurements of the hind limb were taken in 48 limbs (n = 16 limbs per species) and 32 indices were calculated. Mixed model analysis of variance was used to compare the three species and sexes within a species. Thirteen indices had significant differences between species. Eleven indices had significant differences between sexes within a species. Significant differences between the drumming (B. suillus and G. capensis) and the non‐drumming species were observed in three indices. The femoral greater trochanter was relatively shorter in the drumming species compared to the non‐drumming species, which is proposed to allow for increased hip joint mobility, thereby permitting drummers to move their limbs at the rapid speed required to generate seismic signals. Furthermore, the small in‐lever (shorter greater trochanter) may increase the velocity of limb motion. The robust tibias in the drumming species, as indicated by the tibial robustness index, are likely to counter the additional biomechanical load caused by the muscles involved in hind foot drumming. The relatively small hind feet seen in the drumming species allows for reduced limb weight needed for the rapid extension and flexion motion required during hind foot drumming. The significant differences reflected in the hind limb osteological indices between B. suillus and G. capensis and the non‐drumming species are indicative of adaptations for hind foot drumming.