Hind limb myology of the common hippopotamus, Hippopotamus amphibius (Artiodactyla: Hippopotamidae)

Rebecca E. Fisher, Kathleen M. Scott, Brent Adrian

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

26 Scopus citations


Based on morphological traits, hippos have traditionally been classified with pigs and peccaries in the suborder Suiformes. However, molecular data indicate that hippos and cetaceans are sister taxa. This study analyses muscle characters of the common hippo hind limb in order to clarify the phylogenetic relationships and functional anatomy of hippos. Several muscles responsible for propelling the body through water are robust and display extensive fusions, including mm. semimembranosus, semitendinosus, biceps femoris and gluteus superficialis. In addition, common hippos retain long flexor and extensor tendons for each digit, reflecting the fact that all four toes are weight-bearing. These flexor tendons, together with the well-developed intrinsic muscles of the pes, serve to adduct the digits, preventing splaying of the toes when walking on soft terrain. Lastly, common hippos retain a number of primitive features, including the presence of m. articularis coxae, a well-developed m. obturator internus, superficialis and profundus tendons to all digits, mm. flexor digitorum brevis, abductor digiti V, lumbricalis IV, adductores digitorum II and V, and two mm. interossei per digit. Pygmy hippos share these features. Thus, hippopotamids retain muscles that have been lost in the majority of artiodactyls, including other suiforms. These and previously reported findings for the forelimb support the molecular data in indicating an early divergence of the Hippopotamidae from the rest of the Artiodactyla.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)661-682
Number of pages22
JournalZoological Journal of the Linnean Society
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 2010


  • Artiodactyl
  • Functional anatomy
  • Limb musculature
  • Phylogeny
  • Pygmy hippopotamus

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Animal Science and Zoology


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