Kinematics of soft-bodied, legged locomotion in Manduca sexta larvae

Barry Trimmer*, Jonathan Issberner

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

69 Citations (Scopus)


Caterpillar crawling is distinct from that of worms and molluscs; it consists of a series of steps in different body segments that can be compared to walking and running in animals with stiff skeletons. Using a three-dimensional kinematic analysis of horizontal crawling in Manduca sexta, the tobacco hornworm, we found that the phase of vertical displacement in the posterior segments substantially led changes in horizontal velocity and the segments appeared to pivot around the attached claspers. Both of the motions occur during vertebrate walking. In contrast, vertical displacement and horizontal velocity in the anterior proleg-bearing segments were in phase, as expected for running gaits coupled by elastic storage. We propose that this kinematic similarity to running results from the muscular compression and release of elastic tissues. As evidence in support of this proposal, the compression and extension of each segment were similar to harmonic oscillations in a spring, although changes in velocity were 70° out of phase with displacement, suggesting that the spring was damped. Measurements of segment length within, and across, intersegmental boundaries show that some of these movements were caused by folding of the body wall between segments. These findings demonstrate that caterpillar crawling is not simply the forward progression of a peristaltic wave but has kinetic components that vary between segments. Although these movements can be compared to legged locomotion in animals with stiff skeletons, the underlying mechanisms of caterpillar propulsion, and in particular the contribution of elastic tissues, remain to be discovered.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)130-142
Number of pages13
JournalBiological Bulletin
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2007


Dive into the research topics of 'Kinematics of soft-bodied, legged locomotion in Manduca sexta larvae'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this