The emu is a giant flightless bird, capable of sustained high-speed running. Anatomical, histochemical and biochemical properties of the lower leg muscles used to power running were investigated. The gastrocnemius is the largest muscle in the emu leg. It has a short inelastic tendon and contains only fast fibres. It is the major power-producing muscle of the lower leg, with a greater capacity than the digital flexor muscles for bursts of high work output. In marked contrast, the digital flexors have long elastic tendons and contain both fast and slow muscle fibres. It is proposed that these muscles, rather than the gastrocnemius, are responsible for maintaining posture and that they facilitate elastic energy storage and retrieval in their tendons during running. In comparison with equivalent muscles of flying and diving birds, emu lower leg muscles display features consistent with greater power output during both short burst and endurance running. The emu muscles are more massive relative to body size, and the gastrocnemii of other birds invariably contain slow fibres This study illustrates some of the similarities as well as differences between muscles used during flying and running. Capacities for sustained high-energy work appear to be similar in flying birds and running emus as judged from (1) the muscle masses used during locomotion when expressed as a proportion of total body mass and (2) muscle fibre type compositions and their potential for fuel catabolism. The lower creatine kinase activity in emu leg muscles could be attributed to higher energy demands during the initial stages of lift-off for flight.

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