Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

New study involving CU-Boulder tells the tale of a kangaroo's tail

02.07.2014

Researchers find when a kangaroo is walking, it uses its tail just like a leg

Kangaroos may be nature's best hoppers. But when they are grazing on all fours, which is most of the time, their tail becomes a powerful fifth leg, says a new study.


This video is an analysis of video of kangaroos walking has helped scientists discover how important their tails are during locomotion.

Credit: Maxwell Donelan, Simon Fraser University

Involving researchers at the University of Colorado Boulder, Simon Fraser University in Burnaby, Canada, and the University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia, the study illuminates the seemingly mundane task of foraging by red kangaroos. While such activity appears awkward, it turns out their tails provide as much propulsive force as their front and hind legs combined as they eat their way across the landscape.

"We found that when a kangaroo is walking, it uses its tail just like a leg," said Associate Professor Maxwell Donelan of Simon Fraser University, corresponding author for the study. "They use it to support, propel and power their motion. In fact, they perform as much mechanical work with their tails as we do with one of our legs."

... more about:
»Australia »Biology »kangaroos »study

"We went into this thinking the tail was primarily used like a strut, a balancing pole, or a one-legged milking stool," said Associate Professor Rodger Kram of CU-Boulder's Department of Integrative Physiology, a study co-author. "What we didn't expect to find was how much power the tails of the kangaroos were producing. It was pretty darn surprising."

Red kangaroos are the largest of the kangaroo species in Australia. When grazing on grasses, they move both hind feet forward "paired limb" style while using their tails and front limbs together to support their bodies. "They appear to be awkward and ungainly walkers when one watches them moseying around in their mobs looking for something to eat," said Kram. "But it turns out it is not really that awkward, just weird."

In human locomotion, the back foot acts as the gas pedal and the front foot acts as a brake, which is not especially efficient, said Kram. But he likens a walking kangaroo to a skateboarder who has one foot on the board and uses the other foot -- in this case a tail -- to push backward off the pavement, increasing the forward motion.

A paper on the subject was published online today in Biology Letters. In addition to Kram and Donelan, the paper was co-authored by Postdoctoral Fellow Shawn O'Connor of Simon Fraser and Emeritus Professor Terence Dawson of the University of New South Wales. The study was funded by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada, the Australian Research Council, and traveling fellowships from the International Society for Biomechanics and the Journal of Experimental Biology.

Donelan, a former graduate student under Kram, said no animal other than the kangaroo uses its tail like a leg. "Their tails have more than 20 vertebrae, taking on the role of our foot, calf, and thigh bones."

The research project had its beginnings in 1973, when Dawson, a visiting professor at Harvard University, was working with Harvard Professor Richard Taylor, who later became Kram's advisor. Dawson coaxed a small group of kangaroos to hop and walk on a large motorized treadmill, with a goal of measuring the energy costs of locomotion at varying speeds. Dawson and Kram eventually showed that a kangaroo can increase its metabolism by 50 times during exercise.

"Kangaroos are really special mammals," said Dawson. "Work over the past half century has turned the notion that they belong to an inefficient, primitive group of mammals totally on its head."

The kangaroo tail also acts as a dynamic, springy counterbalance during hopping and boosts balance when male kangaroos grab each other by the chests or shoulders, then rear back and kick each other in the stomach in an attempt to assert dominance for the purpose of reproduction.

For the study the team videotaped five red kangaroos in Dawson's Sydney lab that had been trained to walk forward on a force-measuring platform with Plexiglas sides. The platform's sensors measured vertical, backward and forward forces from the legs and tails of the animals. The kangaroos had been taught that walking forward on the platform resulted in being rewarded with sweet treats, said Kram.

Over his career Kram and his students have studied the locomotion of a number of creatures, from elephants, tortoises and llamas to ostriches and beetles.

Although much of the data for the new study was collected years ago, other research efforts by the team members slowly pushed some of the key kangaroo locomotion data to the back burner. "But this was a study we just could not let go of," said Kram. "It was just too much fun. It's a real wonder of nature, how these kangaroos move about and what they are able to do."

Kram calls the evolution of the kangaroo tail, which is thought to have been prehensile when opossum-like kangaroo ancestors were living in trees, an "exaptation" -- a shift in the function of a biological trait over time. He likened it to a roll of duct tape in the back of a truck. "You know you are going to use it, you just don't know when," he said.

"I'm envious of kangaroos," said Kram, a competitive master runner in the mile and 1,500 meters. "When they hop faster, they don't use energy at a faster rate. The have the ability to move faster and not get tired, the ultimate goal of a runner."

Rodger Kram | Eurek Alert!
Further information:
http://www.colorado.edu

Further reports about: Australia Biology kangaroos study

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht Water forms 'spine of hydration' around DNA, group finds
26.05.2017 | Cornell University

nachricht How herpesviruses win the footrace against the immune system
26.05.2017 | Helmholtz-Zentrum für Infektionsforschung

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Can the immune system be boosted against Staphylococcus aureus by delivery of messenger RNA?

Staphylococcus aureus is a feared pathogen (MRSA, multi-resistant S. aureus) due to frequent resistances against many antibiotics, especially in hospital infections. Researchers at the Paul-Ehrlich-Institut have identified immunological processes that prevent a successful immune response directed against the pathogenic agent. The delivery of bacterial proteins with RNA adjuvant or messenger RNA (mRNA) into immune cells allows the re-direction of the immune response towards an active defense against S. aureus. This could be of significant importance for the development of an effective vaccine. PLOS Pathogens has published these research results online on 25 May 2017.

Staphylococcus aureus (S. aureus) is a bacterium that colonizes by far more than half of the skin and the mucosa of adults, usually without causing infections....

Im Focus: A quantum walk of photons

Physicists from the University of Würzburg are capable of generating identical looking single light particles at the push of a button. Two new studies now demonstrate the potential this method holds.

The quantum computer has fuelled the imagination of scientists for decades: It is based on fundamentally different phenomena than a conventional computer....

Im Focus: Turmoil in sluggish electrons’ existence

An international team of physicists has monitored the scattering behaviour of electrons in a non-conducting material in real-time. Their insights could be beneficial for radiotherapy.

We can refer to electrons in non-conducting materials as ‘sluggish’. Typically, they remain fixed in a location, deep inside an atomic composite. It is hence...

Im Focus: Wafer-thin Magnetic Materials Developed for Future Quantum Technologies

Two-dimensional magnetic structures are regarded as a promising material for new types of data storage, since the magnetic properties of individual molecular building blocks can be investigated and modified. For the first time, researchers have now produced a wafer-thin ferrimagnet, in which molecules with different magnetic centers arrange themselves on a gold surface to form a checkerboard pattern. Scientists at the Swiss Nanoscience Institute at the University of Basel and the Paul Scherrer Institute published their findings in the journal Nature Communications.

Ferrimagnets are composed of two centers which are magnetized at different strengths and point in opposing directions. Two-dimensional, quasi-flat ferrimagnets...

Im Focus: World's thinnest hologram paves path to new 3-D world

Nano-hologram paves way for integration of 3-D holography into everyday electronics

An Australian-Chinese research team has created the world's thinnest hologram, paving the way towards the integration of 3D holography into everyday...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Marine Conservation: IASS Contributes to UN Ocean Conference in New York on 5-9 June

24.05.2017 | Event News

AWK Aachen Machine Tool Colloquium 2017: Internet of Production for Agile Enterprises

23.05.2017 | Event News

Dortmund MST Conference presents Individualized Healthcare Solutions with micro and nanotechnology

22.05.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

How herpesviruses win the footrace against the immune system

26.05.2017 | Life Sciences

Water forms 'spine of hydration' around DNA, group finds

26.05.2017 | Life Sciences

First Juno science results supported by University of Leicester's Jupiter 'forecast'

26.05.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>