From Fetus to Adult—An Allometric Analysis of the Giraffe Vertebral Column

As mammalian cervical vertebral count is almost always limited to seven, the vertebral column of the giraffe (Giraffa camelopardalis) provides an interesting study on scaling and adaptation to shape in light of these constraints. We have defined and described the growth rates of the lengths, widths, and heights of the vertebrae from fetal through neonatal life to maturity. We found that the disproportionate elongation of the cervical vertebrae is not a fetal process but occurs after birth, and that each cervical (C2-C7) vertebrae elongates at the same rate. C7 is able to specialize toward elongation as its function has been shifted to T1. We concluded that T1 is a transitional vertebra whose scaling exponent and length is between that of the cervical and thoracic series. Despite its transitional nature, T1 is still regarded as thoracic, as it possesses an articulating rib that attaches to the sternum. The other dimensions taken (width, height, and spinous process length) show that giraffe vertebral morphology exhibit adaptations to biomechanical strain, and we have underlined the importance of the thoracic spinous processes in supporting the head and neck.

Last Updated
January 26, 2021
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