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Are you fast enough to catch a grasshopper? Our new experiment and publication look for answers in visual neurons!

Are you fast enough to catch a grasshopper with your bare hands? Might be tricky, because grasshoppers are quick to react to potential threats! This reaction time is thanks to a very specific, visual neural circuit in the grasshopper. By recording from this circuit in a living grasshopper prep, we can record the spikes that are actuated by visual stimulus! Move a piece of paper back and forth in front of the grasshopper’s eyes and you get spikes! But so much more can be done to study this fascinating, hardwired reaction.

Dieu My worked on this exact prep last summer! And we are excited to announce that she recently had her paper published in June’s edition of JUNE (Journal of Undergraduate Neuroscience Education)! Her paper, titled “Grasshopper DCMD: An Undergraduate Electrophysiology Lab for Investigating Single-Unit Responses to Behaviorally-Relevant Stimuli,” featured in this journal’s titular month, details her summer research in Grasshopper Vision and Educational Methodology. It takes a lot of work to bring a research project to publication, and we’re proud and excited for Dieu My’s accomplishment!

See the Publication

To coincide with her publication, we are pleased to also introduce to you the resulting Backyard Brains experiment!

Here’s a brief sample from the experiment’s introduction:

“It’s easy to observe that grasshoppers are able to quickly hop away to escape potential predators or quickly incoming danger, but learning just how the grasshopper can react so quickly is a research question that has interested neuroscientists for years.

In 1992, researchers Simmons and Rind helped identify a specific neural circuit in the grasshopper that is responsible for reacting to movement, called the descending contralateral movement detector (DCMD). Certain movement patterns activate the grasshopper’s DCMD, sending an alert down to its legs telling it to jump away. The DCMD underlies the grasshoppers’ ability to visually detect, discriminate, and react to an approaching object.”



This experiment guides you through the methodology that Dieu My created to take recordings from a Grasshopper’s DCMD (Descending Contralateral Motion Detecting Neurons).  Also, along with the methodology, Dieu My came up with a few experiments that could be performed to test the Grasshopper’s vision. One of the experiments has you compare different stimulation intervals, while the other has you adjust stimulus variables to see what triggers the DCMD.

The experiment does require some Backyard Brains tools and software, so check out the store for the Completo and SpikeRecorder.

The paper also details a pilot lab where this experiment was performed by a group of students during a 2-hour lab!

The evaluation of the lab’s effect on student engagement with neuroscience revealed that at least 60% of the students ‘strongly agreed’ or ‘agreed’ that the lab increased their interest in studying neuroscience and animal behavior, that the lab encouraged them to generate and test their own hypotheses, and increased their interest in becoming a neuroscientist. Overall, 16 out of the 18 students rated the lab 7 or higher out of 10, with 10 being ‘Excellent.’

The results were positive, with most students reporting tha

Let us know what experiments you come up with and please do share your results with us!





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