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Front Behav Neurosci. 2012 Jun 28;6:30. doi: 10.3389/fnbeh.2012.00030. eCollection 2012.

Active tactile sampling by an insect in a step-climbing paradigm.

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1
Cognitive Interaction Technology - Centre of Excellence, Universität Bielefeld Bielefeld, Germany.

Abstract

Many insects actively explore their near-range environment with their antennae. Stick insects (Carausius morosus) rhythmically move their antennae during walking and respond to antennal touch by repetitive tactile sampling of the object. Despite its relevance for spatial orientation, neither the spatial sampling patterns nor the kinematics of antennation behavior in insects are understood. Here we investigate unrestrained bilateral sampling movements during climbing of steps. The main objectives are: (1) How does the antennal contact pattern relate to particular object features? (2) How are the antennal joints coordinated during bilateral tactile sampling? We conducted motion capture experiments on freely climbing insects, using steps of different height. Tactile sampling was analyzed at the level of antennal joint angles. Moreover, we analyzed contact patterns on the surfaces of both the obstacle and the antenna itself. Before the first contact, both antennae move in a broad, mostly elliptical exploratory pattern. After touching the obstacle, the pattern switches to a narrower and faster movement, caused by higher cycle frequencies and lower cycle amplitudes in all joints. Contact events were divided into wall- and edge-contacts. Wall contacts occurred mostly with the distal third of the flagellum, which is flexible, whereas edge contacts often occurred proximally, where the flagellum is stiff. The movement of both antennae was found to be coordinated, exhibiting bilateral coupling of functionally analogous joints [e.g., left head-scape (HS) joint with right scape-pedicel (SP) joint] throughout tactile sampling. In comparison, bilateral coupling between homologous joints (e.g., both HS joints) was significantly weaker. Moreover, inter-joint coupling was significantly weaker during the contact episode than before. In summary, stick insects show contact-induced changes in frequency, amplitude and inter-joint coordination during tactile sampling of climbed obstacles.

KEYWORDS:

Carausius; active touch; climbing; insect antenna; inter-joint coordination; stick insect; tactile sense

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