Necks lie: solitaire edition

May 2, 2018

Here at SV-POW! we’re big fans of the way that animals’ neck skeletons are much more extended, and often much longer, than you would guess by looking at the complete animal, with its misleading envelope of flesh.

Here’s another fine example, from John Hutchinson’s new post A Museum Evolves:

Solitaire (flightless bird), skeleton and taxidermy at University Museum of Zoology at Cambridge (UMZC). Photo by John Hutchinson.

Looking at the stuffed bird, it seems that it could get by perfectly well with half as many cervical vertebra, if only it didn’t carry them in such a strange posture.

Well — I say strange. It seems inefficient, yet it must be doing something useful, because it’s essentially ubiquitous among birds and many mammals … including rabbits, as long-time readers will remember.

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9 Responses to “Necks lie: solitaire edition”

  1. Antonio Dias Says:

    A “coiled” neck allows for making a strike, no?

  2. Matt Wedel Says:

    Couple of things going on in birds. One is that the fleshy envelope around the cervical vertebrae lies, as shown in this post. The other is that the feathers lie even more, by creating an apparent body profile that doesn’t track either the skin or the bones – that’s really what this post is showing, along with the “owl trousers” post from about this time last year.* Mammals mostly lie the first way – unless they’re really shaggy, they don’t have the capacity to lie the second way. I assume the lying feathers are for better streamlining, insulation, and camouflage.

    * Every ‘X lie’ post has gone up in either May or September. Weird.

  3. LeeB Says:

    As noted in the comments on Hutchinsons post it looks much more like a Gallirallus; solitaires have much heavier bills.

  4. Mike Taylor Says:

    Anthony, the coiled-neck-for-striking idea makes sense, but then why would herbivorous birds retain it? I think there must be something else going on.

    Anyone out there familiar with the ornithology literature, who knows whether this has been addressed?

  5. Matt Wedel Says:

    Maybe it’s to retain the flexibility (literally and figuratively) of a long neck, but keep the head closer to the center of gravity. Also, a lot of birds bob their heads when they walk to help maintain balance. Keeping the neck in an S-curve would facilitate that, while allowing the head to stay relatively stable for sensory continuity. S-curves are good for dissipating shocks, which is probably why we have two of them in our own spines.

  6. Mike Taylor Says:

    That all makes sense, Matt.

  7. Isaac Krone Says:

    One of the biggest liars in the bird neck department is the green heron, Buorides virescens. The neck makes up about half the length of the spinal column, but in the habitual pose the head looks like it’s protruding directly from between the shoulders. The covering of feathers completely hides the outline of the neck.

  8. Mike Taylor Says:

    Yep — as noted and illustrated in Herons lie (and so do shoebills)!


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