Hindlimb suspension and hind foot reversal in Varecia variegata and other arboreal mammals

The foot, perhaps more than any other region of the primate body reflects the interaction of positional behaviors with the geometric properties of available supports. The ability to reverse the hind foot during hindlimb suspension while hanging from a horizontal support or descending a large diameter vertical trunk has been noted in many arboreal mammals, including primates. Observations of Varecia variegata in the wild and under seminatural conditions document hindlimb suspension in this lemurid primate. The kinematics and skeletal correlates of this behavior are examined. Analogy is made with the form and function exhibited by nonprimate mammalian taxa employing this behavior. Examples of carnivores and rodents display very similar adaptations of the tarsals while other mammals, such as the xenarthrans, accomplish a similar end by means of different morphologies. However, a suite of features is identified that is shared by mammals capable of hind foot reversal. Hindlimb suspension effectively increases the potential feeding space available to a foraging mammal and represents a significant, and often unrecognized, alternative adaptive strategy to forelimb suspension and prehensile-tail suspension in primates.

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