Scaling of the ankle extensor muscle-tendon units and the biomechanical implications for bipedal hopping locomotion in the post-pouch kangaroo Macropus fuliginosus

Edward P. Snelling, Andrew A. Biewener, Qiaohui Hu, David A. Taggart, Andrea Fuller, Duncan Mitchell, Shane K. Maloney, Roger S. Seymour

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

15 Citations (Scopus)


Bipedal hopping is used by macropods, including rat-kangaroos, wallabies and kangaroos (superfamily Macropodoidea). Interspecific scaling of the ankle extensor muscle-tendon units in the lower hindlimbs of these hopping bipeds shows that peak tendon stress increases disproportionately with body size. Consequently, large kangaroos store and recover more strain energy in their tendons, making hopping more efficient, but their tendons are at greater risk of rupture. This is the first intraspecific scaling analysis on the functional morphology of the ankle extensor muscle-tendon units (gastrocnemius, plantaris and flexor digitorum longus) in one of the largest extant species of hopping mammal, the western grey kangaroo Macropus fuliginosus (5.8–70.5 kg post-pouch body mass). The effective mechanical advantage of the ankle extensors does not vary with post-pouch body mass, scaling with an exponent not significantly different from 0.0. Therefore, larger kangaroos balance rotational moments around the ankle by generating muscle forces proportional to weight-related gravitational forces. Maximum force is dependent upon the physiological cross-sectional area of the muscle, which we found scales geometrically with a mean exponent of only 0.67, rather than 1.0. Therefore, larger kangaroos are limited in their capacity to oppose large external forces around the ankle, potentially compromising fast or accelerative hopping. The strain energy return capacity of the ankle extensor tendons increases with a mean exponent of ~1.0, which is much shallower than the exponent derived from interspecific analyses of hopping mammals (~1.4–1.9). Tendon safety factor (ratio of rupture stress to estimated peak hopping stress) is lowest in the gastrocnemius (< 2), and it decreases with body mass with an exponent of −0.15, extrapolating to a predicted rupture at 160 kg. Extinct giant kangaroos weighing 250 kg could therefore not have engaged in fast hopping using ‘scaled-up’ lower hindlimb morphology of extant western grey kangaroos.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)921-930
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Anatomy
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2017

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