Force recordings of the pectoralis muscle of European starlings have been made in vivo during level flight in a wind tunnel, based on bone strain recordings at the muscle's attachment site on the humerus (deltopectoral crest). This represents the first direct measurement of muscle force during activity in a live animal based on calibrated bone strain recordings. Our force measurements confirm earlier electromyographic data and show that the pectoralis begins to develop force during the final one-third of the upstroke, reaches a maximal level halfway through the downstroke, and sustains force throughout the downstroke. Peak forces generated by the pectoralis during level flight at a speed estimated to be 13.7ms−1 averaged 6.4N (28% of maximal isometric force), generating a mean mass-specific muscle power output of 104 W kg−1. Combining our data for the power output of the pectoralis muscle with data for the metabolic power of starlings flying at a similar speed yields an overall flight efficiency of 13 %. The force recordings and length changes of the muscle, based on angular displacements of the humerus, indicate that the pectoralis muscle undergoes a lengthening--shortening contraction sequence during its activation and that, in addition to lift and thrust generation, overcoming wing inertia is probably an important function of this muscle in flapping flight.
- © 1992 by Company of Biologists