Deciding which way to go: How do insects alter movements to negotiate barriers?

Roy E. Ritzmann, Cynthia M. Harley, Kathryn A. Daltorio, Brian R. Tietz, Alan J. Pollack, John A. Bender, Peiyuan Guo, Audra L. Horomanski, Nicholas D. Kathman, Claudia Nieuwoudt, Amy E. Brown, Roger D. Quinn

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

50 Scopus citations


Animals must routinely deal with barriers as they move through their natural environment. These challenges require directed changes in leg movements and posture performed in the context of ever changing internal and external conditions. In particular, cockroaches use a combination of tactile and visual information to evaluate objects in their path in order to effectively guide their movements in complex terrain. When encountering a large block, the insect uses its antennae to evaluate the object's height then rears upward accordingly before climbing. A shelf presents a choice between climbing and tunneling that depends on how the antennae strike the shelf; tapping from above yields climbing, while tapping from below causes tunneling. However, ambient light conditions detected by the ocelli can bias that decision. Similarly, in aT-maze turning is determined by antennal contact but influenced by visual cues. These multi-sensory behaviors led us to look at the central complex as a center for sensori-motor integration within the insect brain. Visual and antennal tactile cues are processed within the central complex and, in tethered preparations, several central complex units changed firing rates in tandem with or prior to altered step frequency or turning, while stimulation through the implanted electrodes evoked these same behavioral changes. To further test for a central complex role in these decisions, we examined behavioral effects of brain lesions. Electrolytic lesions in restricted regions of the central complex generated site specific behavioral deficits. Similar changes were also found in reversible effects of procaine injections in the brain. Finally, we are examining these kinds of decisions made in a large arena that more closely matches the conditions under which cockroaches forage. Overall, our studies suggest that CC circuits may indeed influence the descending commands associated with navigational decisions, thereby making them more context dependent.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1-10
Number of pages10
JournalFrontiers in Neuroscience
Issue numberJULY
StatePublished - 2012


  • Barriers
  • Central complex
  • Electrolytic lesion
  • Foraging in arena
  • Insect brain
  • Multi-channel recording, Procaine injection, Tethered walking


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