Journal of Comparative Physiology A

, Volume 205, Issue 2, pp 191–202 | Cite as

Behavioral analysis of substrate texture preference in a leech, Helobdella austinensis

  • Rachel C. Kim
  • Dylan Le
  • Kenny Ma
  • Elizabeth A. C. Heath-Heckman
  • Nathan Whitehorn
  • William B. KristanJr.
  • David A. WeisblatEmail author
Original Paper


Leeches in the wild are often found on smooth surfaces, such as vegetation, smooth rocks or human artifacts such as bottles and cans, thus exhibiting what appears to be a “substrate texture preference”. Here, we have reproduced this behavior under controlled circumstances, by allowing leeches to step about freely on a range of silicon carbide substrates (sandpaper). To begin to understand the neural mechanisms underlying this texture preference behavior, we have determined relevant parameters of leech behavior both on uniform substrates of varying textures, and in a behavior choice paradigm in which the leech is confronted with a choice between rougher and smoother substrate textures at each step. We tested two non-exclusive mechanisms which could produce substrate texture preference: (1) a Differential Diffusion mechanism, in which a leech is more likely to stop moving on a smooth surface than on a rough one, and (2) a Smoothness Selection mechanism, in which a leech is more likely to attach its front sucker (prerequisite for taking a step) to a smooth surface than to a rough one. We propose that both mechanisms contribute to the texture preference exhibited by leeches.


Helobdella Leech Neuroethology Texture discrimination Touch-mediated behavior 



We thank Lidia Szczupak and members of the Weisblat lab for helpful comments on the manuscript. EACHH was supported by NIH NRSA F32 NS095665.

Compliance with ethical standards

Ethical approval

This article does not contain any studies with human participants or vertebrate animals performed by any of the authors.

Supplementary material

Supplementary material 1 (MP4 84982 KB)

359_2019_1317_MOESM2_ESM.mp4 (13.9 mb)
Supplementary material 2 (MP4 14235 KB)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Molecular and Cell BiologyUniversity of CaliforniaBerkeleyUSA
  2. 2.Division of Biological SciencesUniversity of California San DiegoLa JollaUSA
  3. 3.Department of Ecology and Evolutionary BiologyUniversity of CaliforniaLos AngelesUSA
  4. 4.Department of Physics and AstronomyUniversity of CaliforniaLos AngelesUSA

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