bear anatomy

I mentioned a while back I had been working on making a jointed bear. the plan was to use the laser cutter to cut parts, and then hold them together using some kind of pins or tiny nuts and bolts so the legs and head would move in realistic ways. I was inspired to do this while looking at Laura Mathews Instagram feed – she makes extraordinary articulated animals, and they look like such excellent toys, both to build and to play with.

I started the process with a drawing, and some reference photos, and worked out a first draft, but it wasn’t quite right, and I wasn’t sure why.

I am embarrassed at how long it took me to think to look at actual bear anatomy, especially bone structure and musculature.

I did not look for bear anatomy, because I thought I understood quadruped anatomy, because I have drawn horses for my entire life. Any quadruped I see, I can map it roughly onto a horse, and sketch out something that looks perfectly reasonable. But it is not, in fact, reasonable.

To be technical, a horse is an ungulate. They walk about on their tippy-toes, and hide their (vestigial) thumbs up their legs somewhere. (Alice weirded out another visitor at the Harvard Museum of Comparative Zoology by crooning to a skeleton “ah my little ungulate, and where do you hide your thumbs…?”). Bears (and I realize this is a shock) are not ungulates. The scales have fallen from my eyes, and my bear models are hugely improved:

Also I am looking at all other mammals (squirrel, rabbit, chipmunk, cat), and also many non-mammal vertebrates (BIRDS!!! SO WEIRD!!!!), and thinking “whoa, that is not an ungulate either, I wonder what their bones look like???”

tl;dr Bears are not ungulates, and once you understand their skeleton better the models of them work SO MUCH BETTER. Also I think it hilarious that I was last month years old when I figured this out. There is always room for new knowledge. What have you learned recently?

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