A Source Book in Animal Biology

Author: Pierre Belon  | Date: 1555

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Beginnings of Comparative Anatomy

Pierre BELON du Mans (Bellonius). From L’histoire de la nature des oyseaux avec leurs descriptions & naifs portraicts retirez du naturel, Paris, 1555; tr. of a fragment from chap. 12, by T. S. Hall and S. Trocmé for this volume.

Birds of different kinds have their members differently fashioned. Just as the external aspect displays limbs relatively larger or smaller, so the bones forming the internal foundation correspond to what one sees from the outside. Birds of prey have stronger bones than swamp- or land-birds. Never has a bird fallen into our hands but we dissected it if we could. Thus we have inspected

FIG. 1. Translation of text accompanying figure: "Portrayal of the totality of the bones of man placed in anatomical comparison with those of birds, making the letters of the former correspond to those of the latter, so as to make apparent how great is the affinity between them."

FIG. 2. Translation of complete text accompanying figure: "Comparison with the aforesaid portrayal of human bones shows how close to it is the following, which is of the bird. AB: The birds have neither teeth nor lips but have a prominent beak, strong or weak more or less according to the trouble they have in breaking up their food. M: Two long and narrow pallerons, one to each rib. K: The bone called the lunette or forked bone is found only among the birds. D: Six ribs attached to the casing of the stomach in front and to fix dorsal vertebrae behind. F: The two hip bones are long since there are no vertebrae below the ribs. G: The six ossicles of the rump. H: The knee sprocket. I: The sutures of the skull are almost invisible unless it be boiled. K: Twelve vertebrae of the neck and six of the back. L: The bones of the two ’clefs.’ N: Arm or shoulder bone. O: The coffer of the stomach. P: Small bones of the lower arm. Q: The large bone of the lower arm. R: The wrist bone known as the carpus. S: The joints and articulations called chondyles. T: The wing tip called the appendix which corresponds in the wing to the thumb in the hand. T: The bone coming after the wrist called the metacarpus. V: The extremity of the wing tip which is like the finger in us. V: More bones at the end of the wing, two of which are in the form of rapeseeds, one larger, one smaller, which correspond in the bird to the hollow of the hand in us, called the thenar in Greek and in Latin palma. X: The great bone of the lower leg. Z: The small bone of the lower leg. &: The bone acting as leg in birds which corresponds to our heel. AA: Just as we have four toes in the feet so birds have four digits of which the posterior corresponds to the big toe in us. BB: Four joints on the outside fingers. CC: Three joints on this finger. DD: Two joints on this finger as on the posterior one."

the internal parts of 200 species of birds, It must not be considered. strange, therefore, that we now describe the bones of birds and portray them so exactly.

Whoever will observe two-footed animals and compare them with four-footed ones will find none which, while resting or sleeping, does not lie on its side except only the birds which remain always on their feet. Admittedly they support themselves on their breast; nevertheless, there are some which can sleep on one foot, standing without any support, or which kneel, as in the case of those with long legs. But this whole matter rests entirely upon the distinctions I have drawn between birds of prey and those of swamp, earth, woodland, and bush.

Whoever will take a whole wing or leg and thigh of a bird and compare it with that of a four-footed animal or man will find the bones as if in correspondence to each other. For, just as a man walking on his ’claws,’ on tiptoe that is, would have the heel directly in line above the bones of the foot, so four-footed animals walking on their claws and having the heel in line with fingers or toes appear comparable in leg structure to the birds.

But in order to present this so that all can understand it and so as not to lose time in explaining the parts, let us name each particular bone and compare it with those of other animals and of man. The general description of the bones of the human body is necessary so as to learn to distinguish the regions needing medication when a patient presents himself for treatment. But we need not say much about all this here: for, since it has already been described and figured by so many, we do not pretend to add another exposition, except, as far as it can be generally shown, of what is needed to exhibit the diverse play of nature in her works almost as though the form of one animal was a product of that of another. Wherefore, we hope it will be understood that we are making here a comparison of human bones with those of birds only, promising to do likewise for other animals each in its proper place in our commentaries upon Dioscorides, in the tongue selected for that work.

Whoever kills any bird whatever and carefully scrubs the skull (for it is with the head that we desire to begin our dissection) will see no seams or sutures visible there; this is not to say, however, birds do not have them. For if you will take the head of a boiled bird and dismember it you will be able to distinguish the six bones corresponding to ours with their frontal, sagittal, and occipital sutures, as well as the petrous portion of the temporal; and you will recognize the frontal or coronal, the petrous portion of the temporal, the parietal bones on the top of the head, the one forming the back called the occipital which is connected at the base of the brain, and, above the palate, the basilary bone.

For mastication, they have the beak, since they have no teeth except in certain river birds with a dentellated beak. Whereas most land birds have two ossicles within the root of the tongue, these birds have them at the sides, by virtue of which they extend and retract the tongue.

Next after the head come the vertebrae or rouelles of the neck which in French could well be called pesons but which the Latins called Vertebrae, the Greeks Spondyli. Birds do not follow the pattern of other animals as regards the vertebrae of the neck. For, where other animals have but seven, the birds have twelve. Very different in shape from those in the neck are the next six in the spine of the back, to which are attached on each side six ribs: for the birds have only twelve entire ribs and one little one on each side under the wing, but all are meshed crosswise with other ossicles along the spine.

One finds in birds two large bones which we call ’plats,’ or sacra, through which there is an aperture on each side and a socket into which fits the thighbone which we call the haunch. But the chest is of a different sort than in other animals. For to those animals which must develop great strength in the wings nature gave large and strong muscles reinforced by a large bone in the chest in which the lungs are found. On the sides of this are the clavicles, joined posteriorly to the scapula to hold the wings firmly in place. They have in addition another bone which is called the lunette (eye-glass) or fourchette (small fork) since one often places it over the nose as with eye glasses, or one calls it the bruchet since it originates in front of the stomach and is joined to the ends of the two clavicles in the shoulder region and, on the other side, to the corselet, that is the chest bone. It is shaped like a fork.

Behind the large bones called the sacra comes the rump composed of six small bones which can be separated.

In the wings one finds almost the same bones as in the arms of men or in the forelegs of the 4-footed animals. For the large arm-bone called in Latin Os adiuvatori, which we call avant-bras which originates at the blades of the fork and the ’clefs’ (see Fig. I, L), is recognized as corresponding to that in other animals and man having the same protuberances, concavities, and rotundities. To this the other two bones of the arm are attached. There is no every day name for the latter. The ancients named the larger the ulna, the smaller the radius: we will call all three indifferently the bones of the arm especially since we have already called the big one the avant-bras.

*Observations de plusieurs singularitez, etc., trouvez en Grèce, etc., Paris, 1555.

L’histoire naturelle des éstranges poissons matins, etc., Paris, 1551, and La nature et diversités des poissons, etc., Paris, 1555.


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Chicago: Pierre Belon, "Beginnings of Comparative Anatomy," A Source Book in Animal Biology, trans. T. S. Hall and S. Trocmé in A Source Book in Animal Biology, ed. Thomas S. Hall (New York: Hafner Publishing Company, 1951), 13–18. Original Sources, accessed July 20, 2019, http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=1GMN42NJDEXUQJL.

MLA: Belon, Pierre. "Beginnings of Comparative Anatomy." A Source Book in Animal Biology, translted by T. S. Hall and S. Trocmé, in A Source Book in Animal Biology, edited by Thomas S. Hall, New York, Hafner Publishing Company, 1951, pp. 13–18. Original Sources. 20 Jul. 2019. www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=1GMN42NJDEXUQJL.

Harvard: Belon, P, 'Beginnings of Comparative Anatomy' in A Source Book in Animal Biology, trans. . cited in 1951, A Source Book in Animal Biology, ed. , Hafner Publishing Company, New York, pp.13–18. Original Sources, retrieved 20 July 2019, from http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=1GMN42NJDEXUQJL.