Developmentally regulated multisensory integration for prey localization in the medicinal leech

Cynthia M. Harley, Javier Cienfuegos, Daniel A. Wagenaar

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

26 Scopus citations


Medicinal leeches, like many aquatic animals, use water disturbances to localize their prey, so they need to be able to determine if a wave disturbance is created by prey or by another source. Many aquatic predators perform this separation by responding only to those wave frequencies representing their prey. As leeches' prey preference changes over the course of their development, we examined their responses at three different life stages. We found that juveniles more readily localize wave sources of lower frequencies (2 Hz) than their adult counterparts (8-12 Hz), and that adolescents exhibited elements of both juvenile and adult behavior, readily localizing sources of both frequencies. Leeches are known to be able to localize the source of waves through the use of either mechanical or visual information. We separately characterized their ability to localize various frequencies of stimuli using unimodal cues. Within a single modality, the frequency-response curves of adults and juveniles were virtually indistinguishable. However, the differences between the responses for each modality (visual and mechanosensory) were striking. The optimal visual stimulus had a much lower frequency (2 Hz) than the optimal mechanical stimulus (12 Hz). These frequencies matched, respectively, the juvenile and the adult preferred frequency for multimodally sensed waves. This suggests that, in the multimodal condition, adult behavior is driven more by mechanosensory information and juvenile behavior more by visual. Indeed, when stimuli of the two modalities were placed in conflict with one another, adult leeches, unlike juveniles, were attracted to the mechanical stimulus much more strongly than to the visual stimulus.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3801-3807
Number of pages7
JournalJournal of Experimental Biology
Issue number22
StatePublished - Nov 2011
Externally publishedYes


  • Development
  • Leech
  • Mechanosensory
  • Multisensory
  • Vision


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