Structural and biochemical characteristics of locomotory muscles of emperor penguins, <i>Aptenodytes forsteri</i>

Ponganis, PJ, Costello ML, Starke LN, MathieuCostello O, Kooyman GL.  1997.  Structural and biochemical characteristics of locomotory muscles of emperor penguins, Aptenodytes forsteri. Respiration Physiology. 109:73-80.

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aerobic capacity, birds, penguin, chicks, density, diving behavior, enzymes, muscle, fiber types, mitochondria, muscle, swimming vs. walking, myoglobin, swimming vs. walking, oxygen, skeletal


Structural and biochemical characteristics of the primary muscles used for swimming (pectoralis, PEC and supracoracoideus, SC) were compared to those of leg muscles in emperor penguins (Aptenodytes forsteri). The mass of PEG-SC was four times that of the leg musculature, and mitochondrial volume density in PEC and SC (4%) was two-thirds that in sartorius (S) and gastrocnemius. The differences in muscle mass and mitochondrial density yielded a 2.2-fold greater total mitochondrial content in PEG-SC than leg muscles, which appears to account for the 1.8-fold greater whole-body highest oxygen consumption previously recorded in emperor penguins during swimming compared to walking. Calculation of maximal mitochondrial O-2 consumption in PEG-SC and leg muscle yielded values of 5.8-6.9 mi O-2 ml(-1) min(-1), which are similar to those in locomotory muscles of most mammals and birds. A distinct feature of emperor penguin muscle was its myoglobin content, with concentrations in PEG-SC (6.4 g 100 g(-1)) among the highest measured in any species. This resulted in a PEG-SC O-2 store greater than that of the entire blood. In addition, ratios of myoglobin content to mitochondrial volume density and to citrate synthase activity were 4.4 and 2.5 times greater in PEG than in S, indicative of the significant role of myoglobin in the adaptation of muscle to cardiovascular adjustments during diving. (C) 1997 Elsevier Science B.V.