Muscles used for short, rapid movements should experience different physiological demands than those used for slow, stalking movements. Fortunately, lizards display a wide range of movement patterns from sit-and-wait foraging to slowly stalking prey. Thus, they are ideal for addressing questions on the evolution of muscle morphology, physiology, and behavior.
Dr. Michele Johnson and colleagues of Trinity University addressed such a question which Johnson presented during a talk at the SICB meeting in Portland. Although most studies of locomotion focus on the hindlimb, Johnson and colleagues wondered if forelimb muscle physiology is associated with lizard locomotor behavior. To address this, they made 30 minute observations on a minimum of 40 males of 6 species and recorded the frequency and type of locomotor behavior and social display. This information allowed them to classify lizards as “short-burst” species that often run, jump, and perform push-ups as a component of their social displays (green anole, Texas spiny lizard, northern curly tail) or “endurance” species that more frequently crawl (little brown skink, Mediterranean house gecko, spotted whiptail).
They found that short-burst species have more tonic fibers (involved in maintaining posture and balance) in the forelimb musculature, and endurance species have more twitch fibers (used during quick movement). In addition, species with more frequent locomotion had more twitch fibers. Relative fiber size increased in species that ran often and decreased with crawling behavior. Their study suggests that the evolution of forelimb fiber type is associated with the frequency of locomotion and that fiber size is associated with the speed of locomotion.