Journal of Comparative Physiology A

, Volume 176, Issue 3, pp 289–305 | Cite as

Motor patterns during kicking movements in the locust

  • M. Burrows
Original Paper


Locusts (Schistocerca gregaria) use a distinctive motor pattern to extend the tibia of a hind leg rapidly in a kick. The necessary force is generated by an almost isometric contraction of the extensor tibiae muscle restrained by the co-contraction of the flexor tibiae (co-contraction phase) and aided by the mechanics of the femoro-tibial joint. The stored energy is delivered suddenly when the flexor muscle is inhibited. This paper analyses the activity of motor neurons to the major hind leg muscles during kicking, and relates it to tibial movements and the resultant forces.

During the co-contraction phase flexor tibiae motor neurons are driven by apparently common sources of synaptic inputs to depolarized plateaus at which they spike. The two excitatory extensor motor neurons are also depolarized by similar patterns of synaptic inputs, but with the slow producing more spikes at higher frequencies than the fast. Trochanteral depressors spike at high frequency, the single levator tarsi at low frequency, and common inhibitors 2 and 3 spike sporadically. Trochanteral levators, depressor tarsi, and a retractor unguis motor neuron are hyperpolarized.

Before the tibia extends all flexor motor neurons are hyperpolarized simultaneously, two common inhibitors, and the levator trochanter and depressor tarsi motor neurons are depolarized. Later, but still before the tibial movement starts, the extensor tibiae and levator tarsi motor neurons are hyperpolarized. After the movement has started, the extensor motor neurons are hyperpolarized further and the depressor trochanteris motor neurons are also hyperpolarized, indicating a contribution of both central and sensory feedback pathways.

Variations in the duration of the co-contraction of almost twenty-fold, and in the number of spikes in the fast extensor tibiae motor neuron from 2–50 produce a spectrum of tibial extensions ranging from slow and weak, to rapid and powerful. Flexibility in the networks producing the motor pattern therefore results in a range of movements suited to the fluctuating requirements of the animal.

Key words

Jumping Kicking Motor neuron Grasshopper 


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 1995

Authors and Affiliations

  • M. Burrows
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of ZoologyUniversity of CambridgeCambridgeUK

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