Escape behaviors are crucial to survive predator encounters. Touch to the head of Caenorhabditis elegans induces an escape response where the animal rapidly backs away from the stimulus and suppresses foraging head movements. The coordination of head and body movements facilitates escape from predacious fungi that cohabitate with nematodes in organic debris. An appreciation of the natural habitat of laboratory organisms, like C. elegans, enables a comprehensive neuroethological analysis of behavior. In this review we discuss the neuronal mechanisms and the ecological significance of the C. elegans touch response.
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