Motor neurone responses during a postural reflex in solitarious and gregarious desert locusts
Journal of Insect Physiology 56(8):902-10. (2010)
Laura M Blackburn, Swidbert R Ott, Tom Matheson, Malcolm Burrows, Stephen M Rogers
Desert locusts show extreme phenotypic plasticity and can change reversibly between two phases that differ radically in morphology, physiology and behaviour. Solitarious locusts are cryptic in appearance and behaviour, walking slowly with the body held close to the ground. Gregarious locusts are conspicuous in appearance and much more active, walking rapidly with the body held well above the ground. During walking, the excursion of the femoro-tibial (F-T) joint of the hind leg is smaller in solitarious locusts, and the joint is kept more flexed throughout an entire step. Under open loop conditions, the slow extensor tibiae (SETi) motor neurone of solitarious locusts shows strong tonic activity that increases at more extended F-T angles. SETi of gregarious locusts by contrast showed little tonic activity. Simulated flexion of the F-T joint elicits resistance reflexes in SETi in both phases, but regardless of the initial and final position of the leg, the spiking rate of SETi during these reflexes was twice as great in solitarious compared to gregarious locusts. This increased sensory-motor gain in the neuronal networks controlling postural reflexes in solitarious locusts may be linked to the occurrence of pronounced behavioural catalepsy in this phase similar to other cryptic insects such as stick insects.