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Is the Clavicle of Apes Long? An Investigation of Clavicular Length in Relation to Body Mass and Upper Thoracic Width

Kagaya, M., Ogihara, N. & Nakatsukasa, M.

An elongated clavicle is one of the distinct features of apes and humans. It plays an important role in providing mobility as well as stability for the shoulder joints. The relative length of the clavicle is an especially important factor in limiting the range of shoulder joint excursion. It is said that among primates, Asian apes, i.e., gibbons and orang-utans, have very long clavicles. At the same time, they also have a wide upper thoracic cage, which may diminish the effective length of the clavicle. To clarify the length of the clavicle in apes, from the standpoint of the functional anatomy of the shoulder girdle, we examined clavicular length in 15 anthropoid species exhibiting various positional behaviors. The results confirm that clavicle length in Asian apes is long, and chimpanzees have a short clavicle like that of Old and New World monkeys, when scaled to body mass. The clavicular length of chimpanzees, however, is intermediate between Old World monkeys and Asian apes when scaled against thoracic width. Therefore, living apes can be grouped together, albeit just barely, by possession of a relatively long clavicle for their thoracic cage size. Interestingly, New World monkeys tend to exhibit a longer clavicle than Old World monkeys of equivalent body mass or thoracic cage width. Although it is unclear whether the ancestral condition of clavicular length in anthropoids was similar to that of living Old or New World monkeys, an elongation of clavicle was an important step toward evolution of the modern body plan of hominoids.

International Journal of Primatology, 31 (2), 209–217 (2010)


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