A proprioceptive neuromechanical theory of crawling

P. Paoletti, L. Mahadevan


The locomotion of many soft-bodied animals is driven by the propagation of rhythmic waves of contraction and extension along the body. These waves are classically attributed to globally synchronized periodic patterns in the nervous system embodied in a central pattern generator (CPG). However, in many primitive organisms such as earthworms and insect larvae, the evidence for a CPG is weak, or even non-existent. We propose a neuromechanical model for rhythmically coordinated crawling that obviates the need for a CPG, by locally coupling the local neuro-muscular dynamics in the body to the mechanics of the body as it interacts frictionally with the substrate. We analyse our model using a combination of analytical and numerical methods to determine the parameter regimes where coordinated crawling is possible and compare our results with experimental data. Our theory naturally suggests mechanisms for how these movements might arise in developing organisms and how they are maintained in adults, and also suggests a robust design principle for engineered motility in soft systems.

  • Received May 6, 2014.
  • Accepted June 24, 2014.
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