Fast locomotion in caterpillars

J Insect Physiol. 1999 Jun;45(6):525-533. doi: 10.1016/s0022-1910(98)00157-7.


The maximum forward crawling speeds of caterpillars are limited by the hydraulic design of the body and the peristaltic mode of operation of the segmental muscles. High speed locomotory manoeuvers can be achieved by reversing the direction of the normal peristaltic wave (from posterior-anterior to anterior-posterior) although the penalty is a dramatically reduced duty factor of the legs and potential instability. This study describes the suite of reverse gaits available to caterpillars, from reverse walking (the kinematic inverse of normal forward walking), through to reverse galloping (in which all the legs save the claspers are wrenched free of the ground with each step) to recoil-and-roll, a unique form of locomotion in which the insect free-wheels backwards at high-speed. These reverse forms of locomotion are produced primarily in response to threat, involve bilateral activation of the intersegmental muscles and are relatively simple in terms of neural control. The ecological roles of high-speed locomotion are considered in the light of potential predators and the normal habitat and terrain.