Student Research Projects

The Impact of Leg Autotomy upon Walking and Climbing by Temperate Harvestmen

Student Jennifer Houghton
Faculty Mentor(s)
Department Biology
Course BIO 489: Research in the Natural Sciences


There are many arthropods that voluntarily detach (autotomize) legs as an evasive response during encounters with predators. The short and long-term costs of this secondary defense mechanism are not fully understood, but may be considerable. In this study, we investigated the impact of leg autotomy upon walking and climbing speeds in adults of the harvestmen Leiobunum formosum and L. politum. Field surveys revealed significant frequencies (36-56%) of leg loss in populations in southeastern Virginia. Measurements of locomotion under lab conditions revealed that leg autotomy significantly decreased walking and climbing speeds. Thus, although leg autotomy is effective as a defense mechanism, the loss of one or more legs may further increase the susceptibility of individuals to predation.


Science Undergraduate Research Travel Award


National Conference on Undergraduate Research, Mar 31-April 2, Ithaca, NY