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Super Bird: Cooing doves flex extra-fast muscles

The power behind a ring dove's trill belongs to the fastest class of vertebrate muscles known, reports a team of physiologists. This is the first demonstration of superfast muscles in a bird, the researchers say.

These muscles contract some 10 times as fast as the muscles that vertebrates typically use for running, says Coen Elemans of Wageningen University in the Netherlands. Concentrations of such high-speed tissue also occur in the rattlesnake's tail and the toadfish's swim bladder, which the fish uses to produce sound. Some vertebrates' jaw and eye muscles have superfast fibers, but these muscles are slower than the superfast snake and fish muscles.

Elemans says that a dove's trill, although fast, isn't particularly fancy as birdsongs go. If people examine other birds' vocal muscles, they are likely to find other examples of superfast contractions. "It's probably all around us," says Elemans.

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