Tail Morphology in the Western Diamond-Backed Rattlesnake, Crotalus Atrox

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Journal of Morphology





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The shaker muscles in the tails of rattlesnakes are used to shake the rattle at very high frequencies. These muscles are physiologically specialized for sustaining high‐frequency contractions. The tail skeleton is modified to support the enlarged shaker muscles, and the muscles have major anatomical modifications when compared with the trunk muscles and with the tail muscles of colubrid snakes. The shaker muscles have been known for many years to consist of three large groups of muscles on each side of the tail. However, the identities of these muscles and their serial homologies with the trunk muscles were not previously known. In this study, we used dissection and magnetic resonance imaging of the tail in the Western Diamond‐backed Rattlesnake, Crotalus atrox, to determine that the three largest muscles that shake the rattle are the M. longissimus dorsi, the M. iliocostalis, and the M. supracostalis lateralis. The architecture of these muscles differs from their serial homologs in the trunk. In addition, the rattlesnake tail also contains three small muscles. The M. semispinalis‐spinalis occurs in the tail, where it is a thin, nonvibratory, postural muscle that extends laterally along the neural spines. An additional muscle, which derives from fusion of the M. interarticularis inferior and M. levator costae, shares segmental insertions with the M. longissimus dorsi and M. iliocostalis. Several small, deep ventral muscles probably represent the Mm. costovertebrocostalis, intercostalis series, and transversohypapophyseus. The architectural rearrangements in the tail skeleton and shaker muscles, compared with the trunk muscles, probably relate to their roles in stabilizing the muscular part of the tail and to shaking the rattle at the tip of the tail. Based on comparisons with the tail muscles of a colubrid snake described in the literature, the derived tail muscle anatomy in rattlesnakes evolved either in the pitvipers or within the rattlesnakes. J. Morphol., 2008. © 2008 Wiley‐Liss, Inc.

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