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Data from: Digit ratio and length asymmetry in calves’ limbs

Cite this dataset

Sartori, Cristina et al. (2020). Data from: Digit ratio and length asymmetry in calves’ limbs [Dataset]. Dryad.


This study considered possible sexual dimorphism in the relative lengths of the second, third and fourth digits (digit ratio), in calves. Furthermore, a different length of the bone structures of the third (3D) and of the fourth (4D) digits has been examined as an evolutionary adaptation to locomotion on soft ground. The length of the digital bones of the right fore-limb of 33 females and 15 male calves was measured in vivo using a portable X-ray machine. The vestigial structure of the second digit (2D), and 3D and 4D, from metacarpus to the third phalanx were considered in a mixed model, as well as some ratios between 2D and different parts of 3D or 4D (2D:3D and 2D:4D). A covariate for the mean finger length was considered for digit ratios to control for possible biases due to shape allometry. Shorter first phalanx and trotter were found in 3D than in 4D, and the reverse for the third phalanx. The 2D was significantly shorter in females, as well as the second phalanges of 3D and 4D. Significant sex differences in 2D:3D and 2D:4D were found for some digit parts of 3D and 4D and for the first phalanges of 3D:4D. These ratios were always shorter in females, in contrast to that found in most mammals. The asymmetry between 3D and 4D could mean a functional adaptation for locomotion. Sex differences in 2D:4D and 3D:4D were found, but with a reverse pattern than in most mammal species (males > females rather than males < females). In this regard digit ratio in calves was similar to that of Old World monkeys. This study is the first investigation of digit ratio in Ungulates, whose limbs differ from the limbs of most Mammals, maintaining five digits. The reverse pattern of sex differences (digit ratios: males > females) could be due to the peculiar nature of the vestigial dewclaw of 2D and to the hormone patterns acting on this digit during development, but further research is required around this topic.


The dataset consists in radiographic measurements of the right foreleg of newborn calves taken using a portable X-ray unit. Images were acquired using a portable scanner and then  imported into a image-processing software. The measures of the digital bones of interest were therefore obtained by a trained operator. Two radiographic images were obtained using the X-ray machine and then acquired and measured for a sample of individuals to assess the repeatability. Additional digit measures and digit ratios were obtained by summing some digital measures or by performing ratios. Further details are provided directly into the dataset (Excel sheet).

Usage notes

The dataset includes all the data that have been used in the manuscript. Variable definition is reported directly within the spreadsheet.


University of Padua, Award: CPDA134009/13