Exploitation of an ancient escape circuit by an avian predator: Relationships between taxon-specific prey escape circuits and the sensitivity to visual cues from the predator

P. G. Jabłoński, N. J. Strausfeld

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

34 Scopus citations


The painted redstart Myioborus pictus uses visual displays to flush, pursue, and then capture an abundance of brachyceran Diptera that are equipped with giant fiber escape circuits. This paper investigates the relationships between features of the giant fiber system, the structure of visual stimuli produced by redstarts and their effectiveness in eliciting escape reactions by flies. The results show that dipterous taxa having large-diameter giant fibers extending short distances from the brain to motor neurons involved in escape are flushed at greater distances than taxa with longer and small-diameter giant fibers. The results of behavioral tests show the importance of angular acceleration of expanding image edges on the compound eye in eliciting escape responses. Lateral motion of stimulus profile edges as well as structured visual profiles additionally contribute to the sensitivity of one or more neural systems that trigger escape. Retinal subtense and angular velocity are known to trigger physiological responses in fly giant fiber circuits, but the contributions of edge length and lateral motion in a looming stimulus suggest that escape pathways might also receive inputs from circuits that are tuned to different types of motion. The present results suggest that these several properties of escape pathways have contributed to the evolution of foraging displays and plumage patterns in flush-pursuing birds.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)218-240
Number of pages23
JournalBrain, Behavior and Evolution
Issue number4
StatePublished - Dec 1 2001



  • Behavioral evolution
  • Bird plumage
  • Escape circuits
  • Insect vision
  • Sensory exploitation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Developmental Neuroscience
  • Behavioral Neuroscience

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