Physical fitness is frequently a factor in the race to survive. The word “fastest” does not necessarily mean that something is moving swiftly. It can be talking about rapid thinking. For example, when a powerful predator is coming, swift feet may not be as important as quick thinking.
After all, the brain is what tells the feet how long, how fast, where, and when to walk. In addition, there are various mental tricks needed to keep from being attacked and eaten. A prospective meal’s thinking must decide between moving or stopping, outpacing or outwitting its prey, and moving forward or seeking cover.
It also helps to be able to recollect the ideal hiding spots and past encounters with similar predators.
Overall, a complex network of brain circuitry must be engaged and neuronal commands must be successfully carried out to avoid a predatory risk. Additionally, a lot of mental effort has been put into trying to comprehend how predators’ minds execute successful evasive strategies.
Studies on creatures as various as mice and crabs, fruit flies, and cockroaches are revealing the complex neural activity that underlies the physical behavior directing escape from danger and the search for safety. This activity occurs in both the primitive parts of the brain and in more cognitively advanced regions.
Gina G. Turrigiano, a former president of the Society for Neuroscience and professor at Brandeis University, said that this study “highlights one area of neuroscience that is getting attention these days.” And that is the concept of employing ethological behaviors, or actions that are crucial to understanding the biology of the animal under study, to understand how the brain works.
Escape behavior activates neural system networks that date back to the earliest stages of evolution, providing significant insight into how the brain functions. According to neuroscientist Tiago Branco of University College London, “there was species predation on one other from the moment there was life and consequently substantial evolutionary pressure for adopting ways to avoid predators.”
Not all such acts entail running away, Branco says. Instead of jogging, you may swim or leap. You might also play dead or freeze. “There are many various strategies to escape them because of the huge diversity of species, their habitats, and their predators,” Branco stated in November in San Diego at the Society for Neuroscience meeting of 2022.
Of fact, an animal may occasionally decide to fight rather than flee. Fighting, though, would be silly unless you’re the king of the jungle (or possibly a roadrunner who is far wiser than any cunning predatory coyote). Escape is frequently the greatest option for an animal when it is the prey. And a quick decision is required.
Branco emphasizes that if the object decides to flee, it should do so as swiftly and precisely as feasible. And since escape is an expensive endeavor, it should likewise be ended as quickly as feasible. It costs money, energy, and lost chances.
The first step in an escape strategy is to identify any potential predators. Rapid and automatic detection should occur as a result of an immediate reaction to a sight, sound, or scent. Once an animal detects a threat, its brain must act swiftly to apply sophisticated algorithms that tell muscles how and where to move. It’s a difficult decision-making process that takes into account a variety of factors, such as the threat’s closeness, the surrounding environment, and the prey’s health.
The threat’s immediateness should be the first item to take into account. Sometimes you have time to identify the predator before you behave evasively. But frequently, a speedier answer is required. There is no time to waste when there is a “looming” threat, as shown when a blobby picture on the retina gets quickly bigger. Before the victim is aware of the predator, an escape should be made.
No matter if it’s an owl, an automobile, or another thing, adds Branco, it doesn’t matter. “If it’s moving quickly in your way, you should leave and ponder about what it may be afterward.”
When they sense an urgent threat, even the most basic creatures have developed quick escape mechanisms. Fruit flies, for example, change the position of their legs to leap away from potentially dangerous stimuli. Choosing from three or four different routes, cockroaches scramble away quickly in a direction that is nearly the opposite of an approaching predator. Branco notes that if the roaches consistently choose the same angle of escape, predators may develop a countermeasure.
The brain must be trained to detect even the smallest sensory cues of a potential predator nearby, such as movement in a bush or the snapping of a twig, for hazards that are not as immediate or evident as an impending predator. The focus of the brain’s attention must then be placed on an amplified version of this signal. And unlike with impending dangers, a successful escape could need some intelligence on the assailant. In these circumstances, even more, intricate circuitry is required to aid the brain’s response. Branco and coauthor Peter Redgrave wrote in the 2020 Annual Review of Neuroscience, “Immediate escape behaviors can be very straightforward, but protracted escape frequently requires mechanisms like forecasting the motion of a predator or executing memory-based navigation.”
It appears that mice navigating their experimental environment use memory to reroute their path when in danger back to their refuge. The mouse runs briskly to the location where the shelter was when the experimenter stealthily removes it while the animal isn’t paying attention. It seems like the mouse remembers where it is meant to be rather than seeking refuge. To coordinate orders regarding which way to run, some area of the brain must retain that knowledge and then interact with the superior colliculus.