A kinematic study of crawling behavior in the leech, Hirudo medicinalis

J Comp Physiol A. 1986 Apr;158(4):593-603. doi: 10.1007/BF00603803.


The medicinal leech crawls along a solid substrate by repeated alternating extensions and shortenings of the body. Extension occurs with the posterior sucker attached and the head sucker free. The head sucker then attaches, followed by shortening and release of the tail sucker. The tail sucker is then pulled toward the head, where it reattaches to the substrate. The head sucker then releases, and another crawling cycle begins (Figs. 1, 5). There are two crawling variants: inchworm crawling, in which the head and tail suckers are closely apposed at the end of a cycle and the body forms a loop above the substrate, and vermiform crawling, in which the suckers are placed farther apart and the body remains fairly close to the substrate (Fig. 1). The cycle period and the distance traveled during a cycle are greater in inchworm than in vermiform crawling; however, the velocity of travel is the same for both (Fig. 2). For both variants, the interval between head sucker attachment and tail sucker release is similar at all cycle periods and has a value consistent with direct interneuronal conduction of a signal from head sucker sensory neurons to tail sucker motor neurons. The interval between tail sucker attachment and head sucker release, however, is longer and varies with the cycle period, suggesting a more complex interneuronal circuit in the pathway from tail sucker sensory neurons to head sucker motor neurons (Fig. 4). The onsets of the components of the crawling cycle (extension, post-extension pause, shortening, and post-shortening pause) show an anteroposterior lag (Figs. 5, 7). For both variants, the travel time between segments varies directly with the period (Fig. 8). For both crawl types, the durations of the cycle components vary directly with the period, with several exceptions (Figs. 9, 10). A model is presented that summarizes the coordination of the various motor events in a cycle of leech crawling (Figs. 11 and 12).

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Behavior, Animal / physiology*
  • Leeches / physiology*
  • Locomotion*
  • Models, Neurological
  • Time Factors