In the American Southwest, the fishes within the genus Gila evolved in an environment with seasonal rainstorms that caused stochastic flooding. Some species within this genus, such as bonytail (Gila elegans), possess locomotor morphologies that are similar to those seen in high-performance swimmers such as tuna and lamnid sharks. These shared features include a shallow caudal peduncle, lunate tail, and mechanisms to transmit force from the anterior musculature to the tail fin. We compared the skeletal anatomy of the caudal region of bonytail to roundtail chub (Gila robusta) and humpback chub (Gila cypha) to determine which vertebral elements have been modified to create a shallow peduncle. We also tested the tensile strength of the red (slow oxidative) axial muscle by performing a standard stress test. If the muscle can withstand a large load, this suggests it may play a tendon-like role in transmitting force from the anterior muscle to the hypural plate of the tail. Lastly, we measured the collagen content of the red axial muscle (visualized using serial sections and Masson's trichrome stain) to determine if increased tensile strength is associated with increased collagen content. We found bonytail caudal peduncles are characterized by acute vertebral spines and have red axial muscle that can resist tearing under tension. Roundtail chub peduncles are characterized by relatively more obtuse angles and the red muscle tears easily under tension. Humpback chub possess an intermediate morphology, with relatively obtuse vertebral spine angles and the red muscle can resist tearing under tension. Bonytail have increased collagen content in posterior red axial muscle compared to the anterior musculature also suggesting a tendon-like role of the posterior red muscle. In combination with previous studies of swimming performance, our findings suggest that the axial musculature of bonytail may play a role in transmitting force directly to the shallow peduncle in a manner similar to that of the great lateral tendon of scombrids.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Animal Science and Zoology