Musculoskeletal morphology of the pelvis and pelvic fins in the lungfish Protopterus annectens. Academic Article uri icon


  • The West African lungfish (Protopterus annectens) performs benthic, pelvic fin-driven locomotion with gaits common to tetrapods, the sister group of the lungfishes. Features of P. annectens movement are similar to those of modern tetrapods and include use of the distal region of the pelvic fin as a “foot,” use of the fin to lift the body above the substrate and rotation of the fin around the joint with the pelvis. In contrast to these similarities in movement, the pelvic fins of P. annectens are long, slender structures that are superficially very different from tetrapod limbs. Here, we describe the musculoskeletal anatomy of the pelvis and pelvic fins of P. annectens with dissection, magnetic resonance imaging, histology and 3D-reconstruction methods. We found that the pelvis is embedded in the hypaxial muscle by a median rostral and two dorsolateral skeletal projections. The protractor and retractor muscles at the base of the pelvic fin are fan-shaped muscles that cup the femur. The skeletal elements of the fin are serially repeating cartilage cylinders. Along the length of the fin, repeating truncated cones of muscles, the musculus circumradialis pelvici, are separated by connective tissue sheets that connect the skeletal elements to the skin. The simplicity of the protractor and retractor muscles at the base of the fin is surprising, given the complex rotational movement those muscles generate. In contrast, the series of many repeating segmental muscles along the length of the fin is consistent with the dexterity of bending of the distal limb. P. annectens can provide a window into softtissue anatomy and sarcopterygian fish fin function that complements the fossil data from related taxa. This work, combined with previous behavioral examination of P. annectens, illustrates that fin morphologies that do not appear to be capable of walking can accomplish that function, and may inform the interpretation of fossil anatomical evidence.

publication date

  • April 2014