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Two types of information processing in cercal systems of insects: directional sensitivity of giant interneurons

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Cercal systems of seven insect species (cricketMelanogryllus desertus, mole cricketGryllotalpa gryllotalpa, katydidsPholidoptera pustulipes andTettigonia viridissima, cockroachesPeriplaneta americana andBlatta orientalis, and locustLocusta migratoria) were examined for direction-sensitive giant interneurons (GIs) that are excited by cercal receptors but have directional preferences independent of cercus position. Such GIs are known for the cricketsAcheta domesticus andGryllus bimaculatus. Directional sensitivity diagrams (DSDs) of GIs were obtained by recording and analysing the electrical responses of abdominal connectives to sound stimuli from various directions. For each animal DSDs were plotted in the form of polar graphs for two or three positions of the stimulated cercus so that the effect of cercus position on the orientation of the DSD could be evaluated.

All insects studied had GIs whose DSDs for fixed cercus positions were similar in appearance to the DSDs described for GIs of the cricketsAcheta domesticus andGryllus bimaculatus. Most of these DSDs were shaped like a figure 8 (when airflow is used as the stimulus instead of sound, each DSD has only one lobe). However, not all GIs demonstrated a constant directional preference. GIs with constant directionality were found only inMelanogryllus desertus, Pholidoptera pustulipes, Tettigonia viridissima andLocusta migratoria. In these insects DSDs from one GI plotted for different cercus positions had approximately the same orientation (Figs. 4–7). In contrast, GIs inGryllotalpa gryllotalpa, Periplaneta americana andBlatta orientalis had DSDs whose orientation changed in accordance with a change in position of the stimulated cercus (Figs. 8–10).

Thus, direction-sensitive GIs investigated here can be divided into two types: (1) GIs with constant directionality (whose DSDs are ‘fixed to the body’, and (2) GIs with variable directionality (whose DSDs are ‘fixed to the cerci’). To date, in each species only GIs of the same type have been encountered. This may be an indication that cercal systems can be divided into two categories according to how they process information. However, since we have not tested all GIs in each species, we cannot rule out the possibility that a species might have both types of GIs.

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directional sensitivity diagram

GI :

giant interneuron


terminal abdominal ganglion


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Rozhkova, G.I., Rodionova, H.I. & Popov, A.V. Two types of information processing in cercal systems of insects: directional sensitivity of giant interneurons. J. Comp. Physiol. 154, 805–815 (1984). https://doi.org/10.1007/BF00610681

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  • Information Processing
  • Insect Species
  • Directional Preference
  • Electrical Response
  • Variable Directionality