Wind-evoked evasive responses in flying cockroaches Academic Article uri icon


  • 1) A standing cockroach (Periplaneta americana) responds to the air displacement made by an approaching predator, by turning away and running. The wind receptors on the cerci, two posterior sensory appendages, excite a group of ventral giant interneurons that mediate this response. While flying, these interneurons remain silent, owing to strong inhibition; however, the dorsal giant interneurons respond strongly to wind. Using behavioral and electromyographic analysis, we sought to determine whether flying cockroaches also turn away from air displacement like that produced by an approaching flying predator; and if so, whether the cerci and dorsal giant interneurons mediate this response. 2) When presented with a wind puff from the side, a flying cockroach carries out a variety of maneuvers that would cause a rapid turn away and perhaps a dive. These are not evoked if the cerci are ablated (Figs. 4, 5, 6). 3) This evasive response appears to be mediated by a circuit separate from that mediating escape when the cockroach is standing (Fig. 7). 4) The dorsal giant interneurons respond during flight in a directional manner that is suited to mediate this behavior (Fig. 8). 5) Recordings of the wind produced by a moving model predator (Fig. 9), together with measurements of the behavioral latency of tethered cockroaches, suggest that the evasive response would begin just milliseconds before a predator actually arrives. However, as explained in the Discussion section, under natural conditions, the evasive response may well begin earlier, and could indeed be useful in escaping from predators. 6) If cockroaches had a wind-mediated yaw-correcting behavior, as locusts have, this could conflict with the wind-evoked escape. In fact, cockroaches show the opposite, yaw-enhancing response, mediated by the cerci, that does not present a conflict with escape (Figs. 10–14).

publication date

  • January 1, 1994