The mammalian skeleton is a marvel of nature. Here, Ben Garrod, that presents the collection Secrets of skeleton on usmam.org Four, describes how a simple template has been adjusted in various ways come some permit extraordinary pet behaviour.

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It's late and also I'm satellite at my desk, pen to paper; I'm a little bit 'old school' and therefore write every little thing down before typing it every up.


And it's right here that the wonder that the skeleton strikes me as soon as again. Whilst doodling far in the edge of the page, ns look at my hand . . . And also think about the 27 separation, personal, instance bones that comprise my hand and wrist, every delicately working together to enable the precision fixed on my old fountain pen.


Delicate sufficient to organize a pen, yet strong enough to rise a mountain (if i really want to); these little bones space a perfect instance of the wonder of the skeleton.


Most the us recognize that newborns have actually a vulnerable area of skin on the peak of the head (the "fontanelle"), where the fragile skull bones space yet to fully fuse. But less famed is that a tiny baby has actually a bundle of in between 275 - 300 bones, i m sorry will eventually fall to the 206 uncovered in adults.


Where do they go? Well, they fuse, regularly incorporating numerous tiny bony pieces into one bone. Also our femur (the thigh bone); the the strongest bone in the human body, doesn't begin off together a single bone.


Bones are amazing, skeletal are indeed cool, and also bones space undeniably essential for the method we live - if you're in any type of doubt, imagine being a large pink blob sliding throughout the ground.


They administer us v an reliable internal assistance system; provide vital protection for fragile organs, such as the brain, and also act as "cellular factories", developing for example, over 2,000,000 red blood cell every few seconds.


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Image source, Science photo Library

They owe your incredible toughness to the reality that they're based upon composite of two an extremely different materials; the inorganic, calcium-rich hydroxylapatite, and also the flexible, essential collagen.


When experimentation this recently, i discovered, in addition to Prof Richie Gill, in ~ the university of Bath, that the femur that the fairly diminutive roe deer can sustain 1.7 tonnes that force prior to snapping: a phenomenal thought once you think about that this British types isn't lot bigger than a Labrador after delivering these results to larger animals. We predicted that rhino femur could tolerate a staggering 109 tonnes.


It may be rather noticeable by now that I'm quite besotted with all points osseous. It's not simply that my scholastic research focuses on them, or because I simply finished filming a whole series dedicated to the skeleton, or even because I have a lamb skeleton (Gloria) sat in a chair in my flat (after all, why save skeletons simply in the closet), it's more than that.


I've lengthy been fascinated through bones and one thing which has actually intrigued me the most is how an extremely often castle look so similar to one another.


I prospered up in seaside Norfolk and loved nothing more than limitless beach walks. My brother when brought back a "big bird skull" and also was amazed to uncover that the was in reality a porpoise.


This is because skeletons have a mutual ancestry and also in numerous ways, frequently work from a very comparable skeletal blueprint - their body plan.


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Image source, AP

Skeletons (as we understand them today) an initial started showing up on the scene about 420 million years ago. Very first seen in little fish, such together the recently-discovered Entelognathus, indigenous China, the skeleton to be a definite win, in terms of supplying a totality host of evolution advantages. And as is regularly the case in life, when something works, everyone desires a item of it.


As a result, skeletons blossomed and within a few million years, at an early stage tetrapods were hauling themselves out of the seas (skeletons enclosed, all set to take over the lands and the skies). This inexorable skeletal intrusion ensured the there were details elements that space ubiquitous across the vertebrates.


Skulls and vertebral columns are, by definition, inevitable. And also structures such together the pentadactyl limb still follow an ancient body arrangement that ensures that no life vertebrate has more than five digits.


And because that those who are thinking that a white and black bamboo-muncher, pandas don't counting - it's no a "real" thumb. Let's speak no more. Even horses with their single toes and birds v their three-digit wings share the an easy five number plan, all connected through common evolutionary ancestry.


One of my favourite "fun bone facts" is that we have actually seven vertebrae in our neck and that we share this number through giraffes.


We both have seven cervical vertebrae, yet the giraffe is evolved to tweak this straightforward mammalian human body plan, come lengthen every vertebrae, developing the wonderfully long-necked browsers that they are.


The skeleton of the blue whale (Balaenoptera musculus), up to 190 tonnes and also 80ft in length, is not only the world's biggest vertebrate, but likewise the largest pet to have ever lived.


The skeleton of Paedophryne amaensis, a small 7.7mm-long frog native Papua brand-new Guinea (holding the title together the the smallest vertebrate top top the planet) can seem as various an pet as it's possible to gain from the whale. Yet even a cursory look at the 2 skeletons is enough to see lots of similarities between these two creatures.


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Image source, AP
Image caption, The ball and socket joint in the wrist that a gibbon gives them unrivalled flexibility in the trees

To really recognize the necessary roles the skeletons beat in ecology, behaviour, and evolutionary studies, looking in ~ the similarity is nothing contrasted with looking in ~ the often subtle differences that separate them.


Looking in ~ the hand again, a whole range of seemingly similar primate hands have the right to (with a few minor tweaks) do a whole selection of tasks.

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The aptly-named colobus (meaning "docked thumb") refers to a group of large-bodied monkeys, which space at house in the canopies. They have actually just the tiny stays of a thumb, which allows for a much far better swinging grasp. But it is spider chimpanzees that have actually taken this come the extreme, and have lost their thumbs altogether.


Gibbons have actually a share in the wrist unlike any type of other animal. They have a ball and socket-like joint (more akin come our i know good joints), permitting for a massive range of rotation, permitting lock to exhibit unrivalled canopy acrobatics.


Finally, there is one hand among our primate kin the really stand out and also appears an ext Swiss army knife than hand. It's the aye aye's. The largest of the nocturnal primates, the aye aye is adept in ~ finding even the tastiest that grubs concealed deep inside the stems of a tree.


Using very specialised fingers, that performs "percussive foraging", tapping the timber and, after gnawing a hole in it, using another, specialised, elongated finger, to hook and ensnare the tasty prize.


These slight adaptations in the same body part enable carefully related species to display drastically different behaviours, permitting them every to exploit an extremely different environmental niches. This phenomenon deserve to be checked out in skeletons again and also again.