Spatiotemporal receptive field properties of a looming-sensitive neuron in solitarious and gregarious phases of the desert locust

J Neurophysiol. 2010 Feb;103(2):779-92. doi: 10.1152/jn.00855.2009. Epub 2009 Dec 2.


Desert locusts (Schistocerca gregaria) can transform reversibly between the swarming gregarious phase and a solitarious phase, which avoids other locusts. This transformation entails dramatic changes in morphology, physiology, and behavior. We have used the lobula giant movement detector (LGMD) and its postsynaptic target, the descending contralateral movement detector (DCMD), which are visual interneurons that detect looming objects, to analyze how differences in the visual ecology of the two phases are served by altered neuronal function. Solitarious locusts had larger eyes and a greater degree of binocular overlap than those of gregarious locusts. The receptive field to looming stimuli had a large central region of nearly equal response spanning 120 degrees x 60 degrees in both phases. The DCMDs of gregarious locusts responded more strongly than solitarious locusts and had a small caudolateral focus of even further sensitivity. More peripherally, the response was reduced in both phases, particularly ventrally, with gregarious locusts showing greater proportional decrease. Gregarious locusts showed less habituation to repeated looming stimuli along the eye equator than did solitarious locusts. By contrast, in other parts of the receptive field the degree of habituation was similar in both phases. The receptive field organization to looming stimuli contrasts strongly with the receptive field organization of the same neurons to nonlooming local-motion stimuli, which show much more pronounced regional variation. The DCMDs of both gregarious and solitarious locusts are able to detect approaching objects from across a wide expanse of visual space, but phase-specific changes in the spatiotemporal receptive field are linked to lifestyle changes.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Behavior, Animal / physiology*
  • Female
  • Grasshoppers / physiology*
  • Habituation, Psychophysiologic / physiology*
  • Male
  • Neurons, Afferent / physiology*
  • Sense Organs / physiology*
  • Social Behavior*
  • Visual Fields / physiology*