Organization of a complex movement: fixed and variable components of the cockroach escape behavior

J Comp Physiol A. 1988 Jul;163(3):317-28. doi: 10.1007/BF00604007.


The escape behavior of the cockroach Periplaneta americana was studied by means of high speed filming (250 frames/s) and a computer-graphical analysis of the body and leg movements. The results are as follows: 1. The behavior begins with pure rotation of the body about the posteriorly located cerci, followed by rotation plus forward translation, and finally pure translation (Figs. 1, 2). 2. A consistent inter-leg coordination is used for the entire duration of the turn (Fig. 3A). At the start of the movement, five or all six legs execute their first stance phase (i.e. leg on the ground during locomotion) simultaneously. By the end of the turn the pattern has changed to the alternate 'tripod' coordination characteristic of insect walking. The change-over from all legs working together, to working alternately, occurs by means of a consistent pattern of delays in the stepping of certain legs. 3. The movements made by each leg during its initial stance phase are carried out using consistent movement components in the anterior-posterior (A-P) and the medial-lateral (M-L) axes (Fig. 4A). The movement at a particular joint in each middle leg is found to be diagnostic for the direction of turn. 4. The size and direction of a given leg's M-L movement in its initial stance phase depends on the same leg's prior A-P position (Fig. 5). No such feedback effects were seen among different legs. 5. Animals that are fixed to a slick surface on which they make slipping leg movements show the same inter-leg coordination (Fig. 3B), direction of initial stance movement (Fig. 4B) and dependence of the leg's initial M-L movement on its prior A-P position (Fig. 6), as did free-ranging animals. 6. Cockroaches that are walking at the moment they begin their escape reverse those ongoing leg movements that are contrary to escape movements. 7. These results are discussed in terms of the overall coordination of the complex movements, and in terms of the known properties of the neural circuitry for escape. Possibilities for neurobiological follow-up of certain of the findings presented here are also addressed.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cockroaches / physiology*
  • Escape Reaction / physiology*
  • Feedback
  • Leg / physiology
  • Locomotion
  • Motor Activity / physiology*
  • Posture