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How alligators rock and roll
Date:3/13/2008

gmatic muscle, to shift the position of their lungs. The gases in the lungs buoy up the animal, but if shifted forward and backward cause the animal to pivot in a seesaw motion. When the animals displace gases to the right or left side of the body, they roll.

Uriona says that during the Triassic Period, which began 250 million years ago, the crocodilian ancestors of alligators were cat-sized animals that lived only on land.

Until now, it was believed the diaphragmatic muscle evolved to help them breathe and run at the same time, he says. Showing they are actually using it to move around in water gives an alternative explanation for why the muscle evolved.

It also suggests the muscle didnt evolve until after crocodilians took to the water during the Cretaceous Period, which began 145 million years ago. During that time alligators ancestors also evolved a flattened skull, shorter limbs and a big tail.

Studying the Crocodile Rock

The study involved five, 2-year-old American alligators (Alligator mississippiensis) from Louisianas Rockefeller Wildlife Refuge near Grand Chenier. The gators were only 15 inches to 20 inches long, compared with adults that can reach 15 feet.

Electrodes were implanted on five sets of muscles so their activity could be monitored while the alligators maneuvered in 100-gallon fish tanks. One set of muscles played no role in moving the lungs to help the gators dive and maneuver, but four did:

  • The diaphragmaticus, which plays a role in breathing like the diaphragm that separates the chest cavity from the abdominal cavity in humans and other mammals. But in gators, it runs parallel to the belly and encases the stomach and intestines. When an alligator inhales, the diaphragmaticus pulls the liver back toward the pelvis and tail. The liver is attached to the lungs, so when the liver is pulled back, it expands the lungs.

  • The ischiopubis muscl
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Contact: Lee Siegel
leesiegel@ucomm.utah.edu
801-581-8993
University of Utah
Source:Eurekalert  

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