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J Insect Physiol. 2010 Aug;56(8):876-83. doi: 10.1016/j.jinsphys.2010.04.015. Epub 2010 May 5.

Escapes with and without preparation: the neuroethology of visual startle in locusts.

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Institute of Neuroscience and School of Biology, Ridley Building, Newcastle University, Newcastle Upon Tyne NE1 7RU, UK.


Locusts respond to the images of approaching (looming) objects with responses that include gliding while in flight and jumping while standing. For both of these responses there is good evidence that the DCMD neuron (descending contralateral movement detector), which carries spike trains from the brain to the thoracic ganglia, is involved. Sudden glides during flight, which cause a rapid loss of height, are last-chance manoeuvres without prior preparation. Jumps from standing require preparation over several tens of milliseconds because of the need to store muscle-derived energy in a catapult-like mechanism. Locusts' DCMD neurons respond selectively to looming stimuli, and make connections with some motor neurons and interneurons known to be involved in flying and jumping. For glides, a burst of high-frequency DCMD spikes is a key trigger. For jumping, a similar burst can influence timing, but neither the DCMD nor any other single interneuron has been shown to be essential for triggering any stage in preparation or take-off. Responses by the DCMD to looming stimuli can alter in different behavioural contexts: in a flying locust, arousal ensures a high level of both DCMD responsiveness and glide occurrence; and there are significant differences in DCMD activity between locusts in the gregarious and the solitarious phase.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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