The evolution of neural circuits controlling feeding behavior in frogs

Brain Behav Evol. 1992;40(2-3):125-40. doi: 10.1159/000113908.


Our approach to understanding motor systems is a phylogenetic, 'outside-in' approach, the goal of which is to identify behavioral transitions during phylogenesis and elucidate their neurological basis. In this paper, we review the results of recent behavioral, biomechanical and neurological studies on frog feeding behavior. These studies show that highly protrusible tongues have evolved numerous times independently among frogs, and that the biomechanics and neuromuscular control of feeding behavior have been transformed repeatedly during frog evolution. Many of the independent lineages possess unique biomechanical mechanisms for protracting their tongues and unique neural mechanisms for coordinating feeding behavior. In frogs, there has been considerable evolution at the interface between reticular central pattern generators (CPGs) associated with feeding and sensory feedback circuits that modulate feeding motor output. In particular, the roles of hypoglossal and glossopharyngeal sensory feedback appear to have been relatively plastic in their evolution. Prey-type dependence of hypoglossal sensory feedback in Rana suggests that the interaction between descending visual control and sensory feedback also may be evolutionarily plastic. Comparative studies have found that motor systems sometimes evolve conservatively across morphological and behavioral transitions (i.e., the shoulder in birds) or, alternatively, they may be subject to considerably more evolutionary change than is reflected in morphological characteristics (i.e., feeding in cichlids). We hypothesize that the CPG circuits for feeding behavior in the reticular formation may evolve conservatively because they are highly integrated, multifunctional networks which cannot be optimized for one function without compromising others. In contrast, the interfaces between the CPG, sensory feedback and descending control should be less constrained. When changes in motor patterns occur during evolution, it is likely that sensory feedback or descending control may be involved.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biological Evolution*
  • Biomechanical Phenomena
  • Electromyography
  • Feeding Behavior / physiology*
  • Glossopharyngeal Nerve / physiology
  • Hypoglossal Nerve / physiology
  • Masticatory Muscles / innervation*
  • Nerve Net / physiology*
  • Neuromuscular Junction / physiology
  • Phylogeny*
  • Predatory Behavior / physiology
  • Ranidae / physiology*
  • Reflex / physiology
  • Reticular Formation / physiology*
  • Retina / physiology*
  • Species Specificity
  • Superior Colliculi / physiology*
  • Tongue / innervation*
  • Visual Pathways / physiology