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BIOLOGY:
- BEHAVIOUR -
(page 10)
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Gait:

    The thylacine is digitigrade, and like dogs and cats, walks on its toes.  A major difference between the feet of the thylacine and those of a canid however, is that there is no webbing present between the thylacine's toes.  In canids, the webbing serves to hold the digits together when the animal is running.  Thylacines also have proportionately longer rear limbs as compared to canids, giving them a rear-to-front sloping back, and a loping gait.
 

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Thylacine walk sequence created by Arnfinn Holderer (2016) after Moeller (1997), with technical contributions from C. Campbell and Dr. S. Sleightholme.  Click gear button in lower right corner and select "?" to view control options for changing viewing angle and distance.  This animation is copyright and unauthorized use strictly prohibited.
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    The above animation is based on a series of illustrations by Moeller (1997).  The walk sequence was recently animated by Arnfinn Holderer (a biologist at Heidelberg University) with help from the Thylacine Museum's curator Cameron Campbell and Dr. Stephen Sleightholme the Project Director of the International Thylacine Specimen Database.  The animation demonstrates the normal walking gait sequence of the thylacine, in which each limb moves in sequence through a lift, swing, support, and thrust phase; two limbs alternating with three in supporting the thylacine's body weight.  A total of eight different combinations of limb support occur during one cycle or stride: four of three-legged support and four of two-legged support.  For each limb, the duration of support exceeds that of the swing.  The neck and head of the thylacine are lowered during forelimb swing and raised during forelimb support.  The body undulates laterally as well as vertically, and the tail and head swing toward the side being laterally supported.  Stride length is such that the hind foot approximately overlays the site occupied by the ipsilateral fore foot.

    Moeller (1997), when examining the surviving motion picture footage of captive thylacines, observed two distinct methods of locomotion.  The first was the plantar walk, common to most mammals, in which diagonally opposite limbs move alternately, but with the entire pes, including the long heel, in contact with the ground.  The second was the bipedal hop.  In a

gait cycle of the thylacine
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Gait cycle of the thylacine.  Source: Moeller (1997).
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series of stills taken from a 1933 motion picture, a thylacine can be seen standing upright with its front limbs in the air, resting on its elongated back feet, and using the end of its tail as an additional support.  In this posture, it takes on a kangaroo-like appearance and occasionally hops a short distance.
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thylacine - Beaumaris Zoo (QD)
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A thylacine "kangaroo standing" at the Beaumaris Zoo (QD).  In the wild, thylacines use this upright posture to gain a better view of their surroundings.  Because the thylacine's heel has a long and narrow tract of bare, roughened skin along its length, it is evident that the animal frequently rests it on the ground in a kangaroo-like stance.  This image is from a motion film made in 1933.

view the bipedal animation

Click the film icon above to view a 3D computer animation of a thylacine standing bipedally.
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    Moeller (1968) took biometric measurements from a series of skeletons of various predatory mammal species, comparing the length of the limbs to that of the trunk (i.e. the spinal column minus the tail).  The thylacine's legs proved to be proportionately much shorter than those of a wolf, and are actually more consistent in form with those of dasyurid marsupials.  The limb length ratio infers that the thylacine relies more on stalking rather than lengthy pursuit of its prey, and consequently would be more suited to living in forest habitats than open fields.  Of the placental carnivores studied by Moeller, the most comparable in limb proportions to the thylacine is the Clouded leopard (Neofelis nebulosa), a native of the Asian rainforests.  Moeller also demonstrated that in order to preserve the muscles' mechanical efficiency, the greatest lengthening in canid limbs is to be found at the wrist and ankle.  However, the legs of the thylacine are not as proportionately long as those of dogs and other canids, and it likely stalks its prey in a cat-like manner in preference to actively chasing it.
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Clouded leopard (Neofelis nebulosa)
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Clouded leopard (Neofelis nebulosa).

    Historical reports speak of the thylacine slowly but relentlessly "jogging" after its prey over long distances, gradually wearing the prey animal down to the point that it could be easily killed with a sudden rush.  Meredith (1852) states: "The common pace of the tiger is a measured, steady canter".  The thylacine is, however, capable of speedy chase when circumstances warrant it (see information regarding hunting).

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References
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