Characterization of obstacle negotiation behaviors in the cockroach, Blaberus discoidalis

C. M. Harley, B. A. English, R. E. Ritzmann

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

96 Scopus citations


Within natural environments, animals must be able to respond to a wide range of obstacles in their path. Such responses require sensory information to facilitate appropriate and effective motor behaviors. The objective of this study was to characterize sensors involved in the complex control of obstacle negotiation behaviors in the cockroach Blaberus discoidalis. Previous studies suggest that antennae are involved in obstacle detection and negotiation behaviors. During climbing attempts, cockroaches swing their front leg that then either successfully reaches the top of the block or misses. The success of these climbing attempts was dependent on their distance from the obstacle. Cockroaches with shortened antennae were closer to the obstacle prior to climbing than controls, suggesting that distance was related to antennal length. Removing the antennal flagellum resulted in delays in obstacle detection and changes in climbing strategy from targeted limb movements to less directed attempts. A more complex scenario - a shelf that the cockroach could either climb over or tunnel under - allowed us to further examine the role of sensory involvement in path selection. Ultimately, antennae contacting the top of the shelf led to climbing whereas contact on the underside led to tunneling However, in the light, cockroaches were biased toward tunnelling; a bias which was absent in the dark. Selective covering of visual structures suggested that this context was determined by the ocelli.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1463-1476
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of Experimental Biology
Issue number10
StatePublished - May 15 2009
Externally publishedYes


  • Antennae
  • Antennal lesion.
  • Bilateral antennectomy
  • Blaberus discoidalis
  • Climb
  • Cockroach
  • Dark
  • Ethogram
  • Light
  • Ocelli
  • Short antennae
  • Tactile orientation
  • Tunnel
  • Vision


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