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Data from: The crouching of the shrew: mechanical consequences of limb posture in small mammals

Cite this dataset

Riskin, Daniel K.; Kendall, Corinne J.; Hermanson, John W. (2017). Data from: The crouching of the shrew: mechanical consequences of limb posture in small mammals [Dataset]. Dryad.


An important trend in the early evolution of mammals was the shift from a sprawling stance, whereby the legs are held in a more abducted position, to a parasagittal one, in which the legs extend more downward. After that transition, many mammals shifted from a crouching stance to a more upright one. It is hypothesized that one consequence of these transitions was a decrease in the total mechanical power required for locomotion, because side-to-side accelerations of the body have become smaller, and thus less costly with changes in limb orientation. To test this hypothesis we compared the kinetics of locomotion in two mammals of body size close to those of early mammals (< 40 g), both with parasagittally oriented limbs: a crouching shrew (Blarina brevicauda; 5 animals, 17 trials) and a more upright vole (Microtus pennsylvanicus; 4 animals, 22 trials). As predicted, voles used less mechanical power per unit body mass to perform steady locomotion than shrews did (P = 0.03). However, while lateral forces were indeed smaller in voles (15.6 ± 2.0% body weight) than in shrews (26.4 ± 10.9%; P = 0.046), the power used to move the body from side-to-side was negligible, making up less than 5% of total power in both shrews and voles. The most power consumed for both species was that used to accelerate the body in the direction of travel, and this was much larger for shrews than for voles (P = 0.01). We conclude that side-to-side accelerations are negligible for small mammals–whether crouching or more upright–compared to their sprawling ancestors, and that a more upright posture further decreases the cost of locomotion compared to crouching by helping to maintain the body’s momentum in the direction of travel.

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