The acoustic startle/escape response is a phylogenetically widespread behavioral act, provoked by an intense, unexpected sound. At least six orders of insects have evolved tympanate ears that serve acoustic behavior that ranges from sexual communication to predator detection. Insects that fly at night are vulnerable to predation by insectivorous bats that detect and locate their prey by using biosonar signals. Of the six orders of insects that possess tympanate hearing organs, four contain species that fly at night and, in these, hearing is sensitive to a range of ultrasonic frequencies found in the biosonar signals of bats. Laboratory and field studies have shown that these insects (including some orthopterans, lepidopterans, neuropterans and dictyopterans), when engaged in flight behavior, respond to ultrasound by suddenly altering their flight, showing acoustic startle or negative phonotaxis, which serve as bat-avoidance behavior. A neural analysis of ultrasound-mediated escape behavior was undertaken in the field cricket Telegryllus oceanicus. An identified thoracic interneuron, int-1, was shown to trigger the escape response, but only when the cell was driven (synaptically or electrically) at high spike rates, and only when the insect was performing flight behavior; avoidance steering only occurs in the appropriate behavioral context: flight. Thus, significant constraints operate upon the ability of int-1 to trigger the escape response. The integration of auditory input and flight central pattern generator output occurs in the brain. It is found that neural activity descending from the brain in response to stimulation by ultrasound is increased when the insect is flying compared to when it is not. Although the behavioral act of avoidance steering may appear to be a simple reflex act, further analysis shows it to be anything but simple.

This content is only available via PDF.