Tetrapod Limbless Locomotion


Many tetrapods (four‐legged animals) have lost their limbs during their evolution. They move (locomote) by specific patterns of body muscle contraction and relaxation.

Keywords: locomotion; undulation; concertina; tetrapods

Figure 1.

(a) Snakes on pegboards using variable numbers of pegs for lateral undulation. Modified from Gray and Lissman (1950) and Edwards (1985). (b) Surface concertina locomotion. Dark areas are parts of the body in static contact with the substrate. After Edwards (1985). (c) Sidewinding in the direction of the arrows. In successive movements, the dark parts of the body are in contact with the substrate and open parts are lifted from the substrate. Modified from Edwards (1985). (d) Rectilinear locomotion, illustrating successive positions of the dorsum and venter. The dorsal skin progresses continuously, the ventral (more loosely attached to the underlying tissue) moves intermittently. After Gans (1974).


Further Reading

Alexander RM (1967) Animal Mechanics. London: Hutchinson University.

Bogert CM (1947) Rectilinear locomotion in snakes. Copeia 1947: 253–254.

Cowles RB (1956) Sidewinding locomotion in snakes. Copeia 1956: 211–214.

Edwards JL (1985) Terrestrial locomotion without appendages. In: Hildebrand M, Bramble D, Liem K and Wake DB (eds) Functional Vertebrate Morphology, pp. 159–172. Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press.

Gans C (1962) Terrestrial locomotion without limbs. American Zoologist 2: 167–182.

Gans C (1969) Amphisbaenians – reptiles specialized for a burrowing existence. Endeavour 28: 146–151.

Gans C (1970) How snakes move. Scientific American 223: 82–96.

Gans C (1974) Biomechanics: An Approach to Vertebrate Biology. Philadelphia, PA: Lippincott.

Gans C (1975) Tetrapod limblessness: evolution and functional corollaries. American Zoologist 15: 455–467.

Gans C (1986) Locomotion of limbless vertebrates: patterns and evolution. Herpetologica 42: 31–46.

Gasc JP (1981) Axial musculature. In: Gans C (ed.) Biology of the Reptilia, vol. 11. New York: Academic Press.

Gray J (1968) Animal Locomotion. London: Weidenfeld and Nicholson.

Gray J (1946) The mechanics of locomotion in snakes. Journal of Experimental Biology 23: 101–120.

Gray J and Lissmann HW (1950) The kinetics of locomotion of the grass‐snake. Journal of Experimental Biology 26: 354–367.

Wake MH (1993) The skull as a locomotor organ. In: Hanken J and Hall B (eds) The Skull, vol. 3, pp. 197–240. Chicago: University of Chicago.

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How to Cite close
Wake, Marvalee H(Apr 2001) Tetrapod Limbless Locomotion. In: eLS. John Wiley & Sons Ltd, Chichester. http://www.els.net [doi: 10.1038/npg.els.0001864]