The embargo for this press release has been lifted at the request of the PIO.
Without a ripple in the water, alligators dive, surface or roll sideways, even though they lack flippers or fins. University of Utah biologists discovered gators maneuver silently by using their diaphragm, pelvic, abdominal and rib muscles to shift their lungs like internal floatation devices: toward the tail when they dive, toward the head when they surface and sideways when they roll.
It allows them to navigate a watery environment without creating a lot of disturbance, says doctoral student T.J. Uriona. This is probably really important while they are trying to sneak up on an animal but dont want to create ripples.
The discovery in American alligators suggests special muscles that manipulate the position of the lungs and thus the center of buoyancy may be an underappreciated but important means for other aquatic animals to maneuver in water without actively swimming, says C.G. Farmer, an assistant professor of biology.
Those animals include crocodiles, African clawed frogs, some salamanders, turtles and manatees, she adds, noting that the use of muscles to move the lungs may be incredibly important or you would not see it evolve repeatedly.
The study by Uriona and Farmer will be published in the April 2008 issue of The Journal of Experimental Biology, which is set for online publication Friday, March 14.
The researchers found that alligators are somewhat like pilots using controls to adjust an aircrafts pitch and roll, except the reptiles controls are muscles that help them shift their lungs backward to dive, forward to surface or sideways to roll.
Farmer says the new study asked how gators manage to maneuver so gracefully without the fins and flippers used by fish, seals and other adept swimmers"
The secret to their aquatic agility lies in the use of several muscles, such as the diaphra
|Contact: Lee Siegel|
University of Utah