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J Exp Biol. 2013 Feb 1;216(Pt 3):379-87. doi: 10.1242/jeb.070896.

Spatial accuracy of a rapid defense behavior in caterpillars.

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  • 1Tufts University, Department of Biology, 200 Boston Avenue, Suite 2600, MA 02155, USA.


Aimed movements require that an animal accurately locates the target and correctly reaches that location. One such behavior is the defensive strike seen in Manduca sexta larva. These caterpillars respond to noxious mechanical stimuli applied to their abdomen with a strike of the mandibles towards the location of the stimulus. The accuracy with which the first strike movement reaches the stimulus site depends on the location of the stimulus. Reponses to dorsal stimuli are less accurate than those to ventral stimuli and the mandibles generally land ventral to the stimulus site. Responses to stimuli applied to anterior abdominal segments are less accurate than responses to stimuli applied to more posterior segments and the mandibles generally land posterior to the stimulus site. A trade-off between duration of the strike and radial accuracy is only seen in the anterior stimulus location (body segment A4). The lower accuracy of the responses to anterior and dorsal stimuli can be explained by the morphology of the animal; to reach these areas the caterpillar needs to move its body into a tight curve. Nevertheless, the accuracy is not exact in locations that the animal has shown it can reach, which suggests that consistently aiming more ventral and posterior of the stimulation site might be a defense strategy.

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