Morphological correlates of tail length in the catarrhine sacrum.


Taillessness is a distinctive synapomorphy of the Hominoidea that has implications for interpretation of the locomotor behaviors and phylogenetic affinities of the clade's earliest members. However, difficulties persist in confidently identifying taillessness in the catarrhine fossil record, stemming largely from our limited knowledge of the anatomical features with which the tail is associated. Here, we compare the morphology of the sacrum, the sole bony link between the tail and the rest of the body, among extant tailless hominoids and a broad sample of extant cercopithecoids known to vary in tail length (i.e., 'very short', 'short', and 'long') in order to identify morphological correlates of tail length. We examine three features of the sacrum, including the shape of the sacrum's caudal articular surface (CAS), the sacrocaudal articulation (SCA) angle, and the lateral expansion of the last sacral vertebra's transverse processes. Compared with all other taxa, 'long'-tailed cercopithecoids have significantly more circularly-shaped CASs, more acute SCA angles, and more laterally expanded transverse processes of the last sacral vertebra. Tailless hominoids have significantly more elliptically-shaped CASs and less laterally expanded transverse processes than all tailed cercopithecoids, but in the latter parameter, they only differ significantly from 'long'-tailed cercopithecoids. Cercopithecoids with 'short' and 'very short' tails are intermediate between tailless hominoids and 'long'-tailed cercopithecoids with respect to CAS shape and lateral expansion of the transverse processes. SCA angle distinguishes clearly among all three cercopithecoid tail length groups. The results of this study provide evidence for significant differences in sacral morphology among extant catarrhines known to differ in tail length, and have implications for making inferences about tail length and function in extinct catarrhines.

DOI: 10.1016/j.jhevol.2011.03.006

Cite this paper

@article{Russo2011MorphologicalCO, title={Morphological correlates of tail length in the catarrhine sacrum.}, author={Gabrielle A Russo and Liza J. Shapiro}, journal={Journal of human evolution}, year={2011}, volume={61 3}, pages={223-32} }