Feeling in the Dark

American Cockroach

American Cockroach

Many insects that are active at night use long antennae to navigate. Males of the American Cockroach, Periplaneta americana, can have 150 – 170 segments in the flagellum of their antenna.

Camhi & Johnson* studied the wall following behavior of the American cockroach. A cockroach will often walk next to a wall by maintaing one antenna in contact with the wall. The cockroach antennae curves slightly backward at the end, which keeps the antenna from getting stuck in a crack as its tip follows along the wall. If the wall is not straight but has an accordion-like pattern, a cockroach will follow the ins and outs of the wall making as many as 25 adjustments per second. When the end of the antenna is clipped, the cockroach will move closer to the wall to maintain antenna contact. Ablating the eyes and cerci of the cockroach have no effect on its navigation along walls. It is able to follow the wall just the same.

The cockroach can determine the position of its antennae by sensors in the flagellum and uses the sensory information to adjust its position. What works for cockroaches can work for cars. Curb feelers are antennae-like wire springs that bend when they contact the curb and signal the driver. Curb feelers help position a car next to a curb the same way a cockroach positions itself next to a wall.

High-frequency steering maneuvers mediated by tactile cues: antennal wall-following in the cockroach. J.M. Camhi, E.N. Johnson. Journal of Experimental Biology. 1999 202: 631-643.

About jjneal

Jonathan Neal is an Associate Professor of Entomology at Purdue University and author of the textbook, Living With Insects (2010). This blog is a forum to communicate about the intersection of insects with people and policy. This is a personal blog. The opinions and materials posted here are those of the author and are in no way connected with those of my employer.
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