A Primitive Trait in Two Breeds of Equus Caballus Revealed by Comparative Anatomy of the Distal Limb, 2019

Topics: 2nd, 3rd, 4th Interosseous muscle; Dutch Konik; Bosnian Mountain Horse; Donkey; Przewalski; Zebra; Atavism

Authors: Sharon May-Davis, Zefanja Vermeulen, Wendy Y Brown


The 55-million-year history of equine phylogeny has been well-documented from the skeletal record; however, this is less true for the soft tissue structures that are now vestigial in modern horse. A recent study reported that two ligamentous structures resembling functional interosseous muscle II and IV were evident in Dutch Konik horses. The current study investigates this finding and compares it to members of the genus Equus to identify either a breed anomaly or functional primitive trait. Distal limbs (n = 574) were dissected from four species of Equus; E. caballus, E. asinus, E. przewalskii and E. quagga boehmi. E. caballus is represented by 18 breeds of horse, including the primitive Dutch Konik’. The interosseous muscle II and IV were evident in all four species, but only two breeds of E. caballus expressed this trait-the Dutch Konik and Bosnian Mountain Horse. These two breeds were the only close descendants of the extinct Equus ferus ferus (Tarpan) represented in this study. In conclusion, the interosseous muscle II and IV originated from the distal nodule of metacarpal II and IV, respectively, and inserted into the corresponding branches of interosseous muscle III proximal to the sesamoids. This suggests a functional role in medial and lateral joint stability and a primitive trait in modern equids.

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