Control of climbing behavior in the cockroach, Blaberus discoidalis. II. Motor activities associated with joint movement

  • Watson J
  • Ritzmann R
  • Pollack A
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Deathhead cockroaches employ characteristic postural strategies for surmounting barriers. These include rotation of middle legs to re-direct leg extension and drive the animal upward. However, during climbing the excursions of the joints that play major roles in leg extension are not significantly altered from those seen during running movements. To determine if the motor activity associated with these actions is also unchanged, we examined the electromyogram activity produced by the slow trochanteral extensor and slow tibial extensor motor neurons as deathhead cockroaches climbed over obstacles of two different heights. As they climbed, activity in the slow trochanteral extensor produced a lower extension velocity of the coxal-trochanteral joint than the same frequency of slow trochanteral extensor activity produces during horizontal running. Moreover, the pattern of activity within specific leg cycles was altered. During running, the slow trochanteral extensor generates a high-frequency burst prior to foot set-down. This activity declines through the remainder of the stance phase. During climbing, motor neuron frequency no longer decreased after foot set-down, suggesting that reflex adjustments were made. This conclusion was further supported by the observation that front leg amputees generated even stronger slow trochanteral extensor activity in the middle leg during climbing movements.

Author-supplied keywords

  • Electromyogram
  • Extensor motor neuron
  • Joint velocity
  • Load
  • Motor reflex

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  • James T. Watson

  • Roy E. Ritzmann

  • Alan J. Pollack

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