An Integrated System for the Automated Recording and Analysis of Insect Behavior in T-maze Arrays

M.A. Jongsma*, H. Thoen, L.M. Poleij, G.L. Wiegers, P.W. Goedhart, M. Dicke, Lucas P.J.J. Noldus, J.W. Kruisselbrink

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)


Host-plant resistance to insects like thrips and aphids is a complex trait that is difficult to phenotype quickly and reliably. Here, we introduce novel hardware and software to facilitate insect choice assays and automate the acquisition and analysis of movement tracks. The hardware consists of an array of individual T-mazes allowing simultaneous release of up to 90 insect individuals from their individual cage below each T-maze with choice of two leaf disks under a video camera. Insect movement tracks are acquired with computer vision software (EthoVision) and analyzed with EthoAnalysis, a novel software package that allows for automated reporting of highly detailed behavior parameters and
statistical analysis. To validate the benefits of the system we contrasted two Arabidopsis accessions that were previously analyzed for differential resistance to western flower thrips. Results of two trials with 40 T-mazes are reported and we show how we arrived at optimized settings for the different filters and statistics. The statistics are reported in terms of frequency, duration, distance and speed of behavior events, both as sum totals and event averages, and both for the total trial period and in time bins of 1 h. Also included are higher level analyses with subcategories like short-medium-long events and slow-medium-fast events. The time bins showed how some behavior elements are more descriptive of differences between the genotypes during the first hours, whereas
others are constant or become more relevant at the end of an 8 h recording. The three overarching behavior categories, i.e., choice, movement, and halting, were automatically corrected for the percentage of time thrips were detected and 24 out of 38 statistics of behavior parameters differed by a factor 2–6 between the accessions. The analysis resulted in much larger contrasts in behavior traits than reported previously. Compared to leaf damage assays on whole plants or detached leaves that take a week or more to complete, results were obtained in 8 h, with more detail, fewer individuals and higher significance. The potential value of the new integrated system, named EntoLab, for discovery of genetic traits in plants and insects by high throughput screening of large populations is discussed.
Original languageEnglish
Article number20
JournalFrontiers in Plant Science
Publication statusPublished - 29 Jan 2019


  • Arabidopsis
  • EntoLab
  • EthoAnalysis
  • Frankliniella occidentalis
  • Insect
  • Plant
  • Video tracking


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