The material composition of vertebrate connective tissue is highly conserved across taxa. Existing data suggest that the compressive and tensile strength of limb bones are very similar despite marked variation in limb posture and locomotor patterns. However, the material properties of limb bone tissue from suspensory taxa have not been formally evaluated. Sloths are nearly obligatory in their use of below-branch suspensory locomotion and posture, thus placing their limb bones and associated soft tissue structures under routine tensile loading. It is possible that sloth limb bones are modified for enhanced tensile strength, perhaps at the expense of compressive strength. Forelimb and hindlimb bones of two-toed (Choloepus hoffmanni) and three-toed (Bradypus variegatus) sloths were tested in compression and bending to evaluate this hypothesis. Strength and elastic (Young's) modulus were similarly lower in sloth limb bones during both compression and bending, as compared with pronograde taxa. Ratios of peak bending strength to compressive strength additionally were elevated (sloths: 1.4–1.7; upright taxa: 0.6–1.2) for sloth limb bones. Overall, the material properties measured from the limb bones of tree sloths support our hypothesis of predicted function in a tensile limb system. Future studies should aim to directly test bones in tension to confirm indications of elevated axial tensile strength. Nevertheless, the results herein expand understanding of functional adaptation in mammalian tissue for a range of locomotor/postural behaviors that were previously unexplored.

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