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The skin of birds' feet: Morphological adaptations of the plantar surface

Abstract : The skin of the foot provides the interface between the bird and the substrate. The foot morphology involves the bone shape and the integument that is in contact with the substrate. The podotheca is a layer of keratinized epidermis forming scales that extends from the tarsometatarsus to the toe extremities. It varies in size, shape, amount of overlap and interacts with the degree of fusion of the toes (syndactyly). A study of toe shape and the podotheca provides insights on the adaptations of perching birds. Our analysis is based on micro-CT scans and scanning electron microscopy images of 21 species from 17 families, and includes examples with different orientations of the toes: zygodactyl (toes II and III forward), anisodactyl (toes II, III, and IV forward), and heterodactyl (toes III and IV forward). We show that in these three groups, the skin forms part of a perching adaptation that involves syndactyly to different degrees. However, syndactyly does not occur in Psittacidae that use their toes also for food manipulation. The syndactyly increases the sole surface and may reinforce adherence with the substrate. Scale shape and toe orientation are involved in functional adaptations to perch. Thus, both bone and skin features combine to form a pincer-like foot.
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Submitted on : Thursday, June 3, 2021 - 3:55:18 PM
Last modification on : Friday, April 1, 2022 - 3:45:18 AM




Elizabeth Höfling, Anick Abourachid. The skin of birds' feet: Morphological adaptations of the plantar surface. Journal of Morphology, 2021, 282 (1), pp.88-97. ⟨10.1002/jmor.21284⟩. ⟨mnhn-03248482⟩



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