Curiosity and Ostrich Knees

Do you see the tilt of that ostrich’s head in the picture at the left? That’s curiosity.
(If you can’t see it, the whole post can be found at www.WINNpost.org.)

Curiosity is a great, great gift for every living thing that needs to gain information in order to survive. Seeking behavior is natural to all animals – “Is that friend or foe?” “Is that something that’s good to eat?” “Is there more room for me over there?” The human animal is curious too. Without our ability to explore and discover, we would not be here now.

Ostriches are the largest living birds and the fastest ones on land. They are also the only ones we know of that have two kneecaps on each leg. Sophie Regnault and her colleagues at the Royal Veterinary College in Hatfield, the United Kingdom, were curious about this. A brief article in NEW SCIENTIST titled “The century-old mystery of the ostrich’s four kneecaps,” says that although these double knees have been known since 1864, we haven’t known why ostriches have them.
(NEW SCIENTIST, Vol 2353, No 3142, September 9-15, page 19)

So the team at the veterinary college, “… bent and straightened the knees of a single dead ostrich, using x-ray imaging to track the movements. They then built a computer model to understand the leverage of the muscles controlling the knee.”

 The article went on to say,

 “Typically, kneecaps lessen the force extensor muscles must exert to straighten the knee. … It was the opposite in the ostrich.”

 The team hypothesized that the double knees alter the leverage in some way that allows the ostrich to straighten its legs more quickly and contributes to its great speed in running. They concluded,

“It is hard to tell if these ideas are right, as we have no other animal with two kneecaps per leg for comparison. Many of the ostrich’s closest relatives don’t have kneecaps at all.”

Where would humanity be if we weren’t so interested in knowing stuff? Without that searching mindset, life would not have survived or progressed and we would not have learned about ourselves, the world, or the universe. The whole endeavor of science is based on curiosity – sometimes about small-scale inquiries like this one about the ostrich’s double knees and sometimes about the largest scale questions possible such as those concerned with the nature of reality. What will we discover next?

2 Comments Add yours

  1. Lydia says:

    One thing seems true to me. Not nearly enough questioning is going on from many folks these days!

  2. Lisbeth Bagnold says:

    That all such exploration would make us smile thus-ly!!

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