Mudskippers are a group of amphibious fishes in the family Oxudercidae, whose species inhabit a range of habitats from mostly aquatic to mostly terrestrial. Most of our understanding about habitat preference comes from natural history observations, particularly where they are collected (i.e., low intertidal vs. high intertidal regions). Mudskippers have undergone several morphological changes to accommodate a terrestrial life, including major changes to the pectoral and pelvic girdles. These changes result in a novel crutching gait, which mudskippers use to move over land. Though the appendicular morphology and crutching gait of mudskippers have been described in some species, few studies have compared skeletal structures across the family. In our study, we use microcomputed tomography (µCT) scans to compare the skeletal anatomy of 16 species of aquatic and terrestrial mudskippers. Linear discriminant analysis is used to analyze measurements obtained through geometric morphometrics (landmarks). We found bone structures of the pectoral region in the terrestrial group were significantly longer and wider than those in the aquatic group. Furthermore, a significant difference in anatomy is shown between terrestrial and aquatic genera with both axial and appendicular elements contributing to the separation between groups. This work describes the differences in skeletal morphology associated with terrestriality in mudskippers and provides valuable insights into specific anatomical characteristics contributing to their adaptation to novel environments.
Zhou, H., Donatelli, C. M., Laneuville, O., & Standen, E. M. (2023). Skeletal anatomy of the pectoral fin in mudskipper species from terrestrial and aquatic habitats. Journal of Morphology, 284, e21612. https://doi.org/10.1002/jmor.21612
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