Bone strength in small mammals and bipedal birds: do safety factors change with body size?

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Measurements of the cross-sectional geometry and length of bones from animals of different sizes suggest that peak locomotory stresses might be as much as nine times greater in the limb bones of a 300 kg horse than those of a 0.10 kg chipmunk. To determine if the bones of larger animals are stronger than those of small animals, the bending strength of whole bone specimens from the limbs of small mammals and bipedal birds was measured and compared with published data for large mammalian cortical bone (horses and bovids). No significant difference (P greater than 0.2) was found in the failure stress of bone over a range in size from 0.05-700 kg (233 +/- 53 MN/m2 for small animals compared to 200 +/- 28 MN/m2 for large animals). This finding suggests that either the limb bones of small animals are much stronger than they need to be, or that other aspects of locomotion (e.g. duty factor and limb orientation relative to the direction of the ground force) act to decrease peak locomotory stresses in larger animals.


Biewener, A AengAM18140/AM/NIADDK NIH HHS/T32GM07117/GM/NIGMS NIH HHS/Comparative StudyResearch Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.ENGLAND1982/06/01J Exp Biol. 1982 Jun;98:289-301.