Event Abstract

The Role of Antenna Mechanics on Control during Thigmotaxis in Cockroaches

  • 1 University of California Berkeley, Biophysics Group, United States
  • 2 Johns Hopkins University, Mechanical Engineering, United States
  • 3 University of California Berkeley, Integrative Biology, United States

Characterizing mechanical properties of sensors is critical to decoding sensory information for neuroethological studies. Sensory biomechanical filtering can be represented by a cascade of transfer functions between the environment, sensory appendage, and individual sensors. To reveal the role of sensory mechanics on neural feedback during high-bandwidth task-level control, we studied the role of antenna mechanics during thigmotaxis in the cockroach Periplaneta americana. Cockroaches rely on mechanosensors in their antennae to track surfaces during high-speed running. We demonstrated that a sensory appendage’s mechanical state affects control and performance and that this change in mechanical state is driven passively via interactions between a sensor and the environment. Specifically, first we found that during thigmotaxis an antenna can adopt two distinct mechanical states. We showed that the state of the antenna significantly affects body-to-wall distance (the proposed state variable for control) with important implications on performance and control strategy. Secondly, we showed that a dynamic change in the state of the antenna results in significant changes in tracking control. Thirdly, we demonstrated that the change in mechanical state of the antenna is mediated passively via the interactions between the sensor and the environment. Here we compared the frequency of states for cases when the surface is smooth or rough and developed a two-state discrete Markov chain model to compare transition probabilities between states. Finally we showed that large passive mechanosensory hairs on the antenna are sufficient for mediating a change in state. To demonstrate this we performed segment-by-segment laser ablation of large mechanosensory hairs by adapting a high-precision micromanufacturing laser system. Our results suggest that passive mechanical feedback of antennal sensory structures may simplify control during thigmotaxis. These hypotheses regarding sensor-environment interaction have also been tested using a bio-inspired artificial antenna platform with tunable mechanical parameters, thereby contributing to our understanding of the biomechanics while simultaneously advancing robotic tactile navigation.

Keywords: antenna, Cockroach, Control, Mechanosensation, navigation, Robotics, sensory biomechanics, thigmotaxis

Conference: Tenth International Congress of Neuroethology, College Park. Maryland USA, United States, 5 Aug - 10 Aug, 2012.

Presentation Type: Poster (but consider for student poster award)

Topic: Sensory: Mechanosensation

Citation: Mongeau J, Lee J, Demir A, Full RJ and Cowan NJ (2012). The Role of Antenna Mechanics on Control during Thigmotaxis in Cockroaches. Front. Behav. Neurosci. Conference Abstract: Tenth International Congress of Neuroethology. doi: 10.3389/conf.fnbeh.2012.27.00188

Received: 29 Apr 2012; Published Online: 07 Jul 2012.

* Correspondence: Mr. Jean-Michel Mongeau, University of California Berkeley, Biophysics Group, Berkeley, CA, 94704, United States, jmmongeau@berkeley.edu

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