Aging is often associated with locomotor deficits. Behavior in aged Blaberus discoidalis cockroaches was analyzed during horizontal walking, climbing, righting and inclined walking. Adult animals showed a decrease in spontaneous locomotion with increasing age. Tarsal abnormalities, termed 'tarsus catch', were often present in aged individuals. In 'tarsus catch', the prothoracic leg catches on the mesothoracic leg during the swing phase. This deficit causes alterations of the gait, but animals are able to regain a tripod gait after the perturbation. The tibio-tarsal joint angle in individuals with 'tarsus catch' was significantly less than in intact animals. Structural defects were consistently associated with 'tarsus catch'. The tracheal tubes in the tarsus and around the tibio-tarsal joint were often discolored and the tarsal pads were hardened in aged cockroaches. All aged individuals were able to climb. However, prior to climbing, some animals with 'tarsus catch' failed to show postural changes that are normally seen in young animals. Aged individuals can right as rapidly as 1-week-old adults. However, animals with 'tarsus catch' take longer to right than aged intact individuals. Old cockroaches have difficulty climbing an incline of 45 degrees, and leg slipping is extensive. Slipping may be caused by tarsal degeneration, but animals that are unsuccessful in inclined walking often show uncoordinated gaits during the attempt. Escape behavior was examined in aged American cockroaches (Periplaneta americana). They do not show normal escape. However, after decapitation, escape movements return, suggesting that degeneration in head ganglia may actually interfere with escape. These findings provide evidence for age-related changes both in the periphery and in the central nervous system of cockroaches and stress the importance of multi-level approaches to the study of locomotion.
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