Forelimb muscle architecture and myosin isoform composition in the groundhog (Marmota monax)

Joseph E. Rupert, Jacob A. Rose, Jason M. Organ, Michael T. Butcher

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

11 Scopus citations


Scratch-digging mammals are commonly described as having large, powerful forelimb muscles for applying high force to excavate earth, yet studies quantifying the architectural properties of the musculature are largely unavailable. To further test hypotheses about traits that represent specializations for scratch-digging, we quantified muscle architectural properties and myosin expression in the forelimb of the groundhog (Marmota monax), a digger that constructs semi-complex burrows. Architectural properties measured were muscle moment arm, muscle mass (MM), belly length (ML), fascicle length (lF), pennation angle and physiological cross-sectional area (PCSA), and these metrics were used to estimate maximum isometric force, joint torque and power. Myosin heavy chain (MHC) isoform composition was determined in selected forelimb muscles by SDS-PAGE and densitometry analysis. Groundhogs have large limb retractors and elbow extensors that are capable of applying moderately high torque at the shoulder and elbow joints, respectively. Most of these muscles (e.g. latissimus dorsi and pectoralis superficialis) have high lF/ML ratios, indicating substantial shortening ability and moderate power. The unipennate triceps brachii long head has the largest PCSA and is capable of the highest joint torque at both the shoulder and elbow joints. The carpal and digital flexors show greater pennation and shorter fascicle lengths than the limb retractors and elbow extensors, resulting in higher PCSA/MM ratios and force production capacity. Moreover, the digital flexors have the capacity for both appreciable fascicle shortening and force production, indicating high muscle work potential. Overall, the forelimb musculature of the groundhog is capable of relatively low sustained force and power, and these properties are consistent with the findings of a predominant expression of the MHC-2A isoform. Aside from the apparent modifications to the digital flexors, the collective muscle properties observed are consistent with its behavioral classification as a lessspecialized burrower and these may be more representative of traits common to numerous rodents with burrowing habits or mammals with some fossorial ability.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)194-205
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Experimental Biology
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jan 15 2015


  • Force
  • Muscle
  • Myosin
  • Power
  • Scratch-digging

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Physiology
  • Aquatic Science
  • Animal Science and Zoology
  • Molecular Biology
  • Insect Science

Fingerprint Dive into the research topics of 'Forelimb muscle architecture and myosin isoform composition in the groundhog (Marmota monax)'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

  • Cite this