Comparative development of limb musculature in phylogenetically and ecologically divergent lizards

Dec 1, 2021

Background: Squamate reptiles (lizards, snakes, amphisbaenians) exhibit incredible diversity in their locomotion, behavior, morphology and ecological breadth. Although they often are used as models of locomotor diversity, surprisingly little attention has been given to muscle development in squamate reptiles. In fact, the most detailed examination was conducted almost 80 years ago and solely focused on the proximal limb regions. Herein we present forelimb and hindlimb muscle morphogenesis data for three lizard species with different locomotion and feeding strategies: the desert grassland whiptail lizard, the central bearded dragon, and the veiled chameleon. This study fills critical gaps in our understanding of muscle morphogenesis in squamate reptiles and presents a comparative and temporospatial analysis of muscle development. Results: Our results reveal a conserved pattern of early muscle development among lizards with different adult morphologies and ecologies. The variations that exist are concentrated in distal regions, particularly the specialized autopodia of chameleons, where differentiation of muscles associated with the digits is delayed. Conclusions: The chameleon autopod provides an example of major evolutionary modifications to the skeleton with only minor disruption of the conserved order and pattern of limb muscle development. This robustness of muscle patterning facilitates the evolution of extreme yet functional phenotypes. This article is protected by copyright. All rights reserved.
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