Functional morphology of the radialis muscle in shark tails

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The functional morphology of intrinsic caudal musculature in sharks has not been studied previously, though the kinematics and function of body musculature have been the focus of a great deal of research. In the tail, ventral to the axial myomeres, there is a thin strip of red muscle with fibers angled dorsoposteriorly, known as the radialis. This research gives the first anatomical description of the radialis muscle in sharks, and addresses the hypothesis that the radialis muscle provides postural stiffening in the tail of live swimming sharks. The radialis muscle fibers insert onto the deepest layers of the stratum compactum, the more superior layers of which are orthogonally arrayed and connect to the epidermis. The two deepest layers of the stratum compactum insert onto the proximal ends of the ceratotrichia of the caudal fin. This anatomical arrangement exists in sharks and is modified in rays, but was not found in skates or chimaeras. Electromyography of the caudal muscles of dogfish swimming steadily at 0.25 and 0.5 body lengths per second (L s21) exhibited a pattern of anterior to posterior activation of the radialis muscle, followed by activation of red axial muscle in the more anteriorly located ipsilateral myomeres of the caudal peduncle; at 0.75 L s-1, only the anterior portion of the radialis and white axial muscle of the contralateral peduncular myomeres were active. Activity of the radialis muscle occurred during periods of the greatest drag incurred by the tail during the tail beat and preceded the activity of more anteriorly located axial myomeres. This nonconformity to the typical anterior to posterior wave of muscle activation in fish swimming, in combination with anatomical positioning of the radialis muscles and stratum compactum, suggests that radialis activity may have a postural function to stiffen the fin, and does not function as a typical myotomal muscle.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)340-352
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Morphology
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 2010
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Animal Science and Zoology
  • Developmental Biology


  • Caudal fin
  • Collagen
  • Dogfish
  • Intramuscular pressure
  • Stratum compactum
  • Swimming


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