The Journal of experimental biology

One antenna, two antennae, big antennae, small: total antennae length, not bilateral symmetry, predicts odor-tracking performance in the American cockroach Periplaneta americana.

PMID 25987729


Determining the location of a particular stimulus is often crucial to an animal's survival. One way to determine the local distribution of an odor is to make simultaneous comparisons across multiple sensors. If the sensors detect differences in the distribution of an odor in space, the animal can then steer toward the source. American cockroaches, Periplaneta americana, have 4 cm long antennae and are thought to track odor plumes using a spatial sampling strategy, comparing the amount of odor detected between these bilateral sensors. However, it is not uncommon for cockroaches to lose parts of their antennae and still track a wind-borne odor to its source. We examined whether bilateral odor input is necessary to locate an odor source in a wind-driven environment and how the loss of increasing lengths of the antennae affects odor tracking. The tracking performances of individuals with two bilaterally symmetrical antennae of decreasing length were compared with antennal length-matched individuals with one antenna. Cockroaches with one antenna were generally able to track an odor plume to its source. In fact, the performances of unilaterally antennectomized individuals were statistically identical to those of their bilaterally symmetrical counterparts when the combined length of both antennae equaled the length of the single antenna of the antennectomized individuals. This suggests that the total length of available antennae influences odor tracking performance more than any specific piece of antenna, and that they may be doing something more complex than a simple bilateral comparison between their antennae. The possibility of an antenna-topic map is discussed.