The Paris Camel is Just Plain Dumb
September 29, 2010
Many thanks to Mark Evans of the New Walk Museum, Leicester, for this photograph of yet another camel skeleton, this one from the MNHN in Paris, France:
This is especially interesting because it’s our first Bactrian camel — the Cambridge Camel and the Oxford camel are both dromedaries. I’d wondered whether one species might have a better articulating cervical skeleton than the other, but it seems there is little or nothing to choose between them.
Also of note in this photo is the juvenile camel giraffe in the background, which has thoughtfully been mounted with its nuchal ligament in place. It’s interesting to see how this ligament has branches that insert separately on the neural spines of all seven cervical vertebrae. Note, too, that the intervertebral cartilage seems to have been left in place. This would be good to see in the flesh … sigh … another reason to revisit Paris, the most hostile city in the world.
Getting back to the adult dromedary in the foreground, here’s a zoom into the joint between the second and third cervicals, with the background smoothed out between them so that you can more easily see the gape between the centra:
And remember that, once more, the posture adopted for the skeletal mount is much less strongly flexed than the habitual posture in life. And other postures also adopted in life are more extreme still:
This photograph, kindly provided by Gordon Grigg of the University of Queensland, shows typical rutting behaviour of dromedary camels, which he observed closely for his recent paper on the role of strategic hypothermia in reproductive success (Grigg et al. 2009). The more distant of the two camels is in a truly ridiculous pose. And it’s ever siller when we bear in mind that necks lie: knowing what we do about the trajectory of the cervical vertebral column within the fleshy neck of tetrapods, it seems likely that the cervical skeletons of these animals were posed something like this:
If you compare these postures with the one that I photoshopped in the Cambridge Camel post, you’ll see that these are more extreme. I ought to ‘shop the Cambridge camel vertebrae into this pose some time and see just how dumb it looks.
But of course, this may not be as extreme as camel neck poses get. A few times in recent articles and comments, we’ve alluded to the camel-neck illustration from Kent Stevens’s 2005 talk to the German Research Group on Sauropod Biology at the Sauriermuseum in Aathal, Switzerland. For those who don’t want to download the complete set of slides, here is that illustration:
We don’t know the provenance of this picture — or, given the low resolution — even whether it’s a photograph or a drawing. But if it’s real, it’s … stunning.
Anyone know where it’s from? [Update: see Jerry Harris's comment below.]
- Grigg, Gordon, Lyn Beard, Birgit Dörges, Jürgen Heucke, Jocelyn Coventry, Alex Coppock and Simon Blomberg. 2009. Strategic (adaptive) hypothermia in bull dromedary camels during rut; could it increase reproductive success? Biology Letters 5:853-856, first published online 15 July 2009. doi: 10.1098/rsbl.2009.0450