Hoatzin nestling locomotion: Acquisition of quadrupedal limb coordination in birds

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Science Advances  22 May 2019:
Vol. 5, no. 5, eaat0787
DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.aat0787


The evolution of flight in birds involves (i) decoupling of the primitive mode of quadrupedal locomotor coordination, with a new synchronized flapping motion of the wings while conserving alternating leg movements, and (ii) reduction of wing digits and loss of functional claws. Our observations show that hoatzin nestlings move with alternated walking coordination of the four limbs using the mobile claws on their wings to anchor themselves to the substrate. When swimming, hoatzin nestlings use a coordinated motion of the four limbs involving synchronous or alternated movements of the wings, indicating a versatile motor pattern. Last, the proportions of claws and phalanges in juvenile hoatzin are radically divergent from those in adults, yet strikingly similar to those of Archaeopteryx. The locomotor plasticity observed in the hoatzin suggests that transitional forms that retained claws on the wings could have also used them for locomotion.

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