Bug Blog

Watch Crickets Fight Until They Get Stoned and Paranoid

While many people believe that nitric oxide is a miracle gas that makes car go super fast or gives people the giggles, it really is much more and its effects may surprise you. Nitric oxide is a molecule that the body creates to help its 50 trillion cells communicate by transmitting signals throughout the body. It has been shown to be essential in the following cellular activities:

• Help memory and behavior by transmitting information between nerve cells in the brain
• Assist the immune system at fighting off bacteria and defending against tumors
• Regulate blood pressure by dilating arteries
• Reduce inflammation
• Improve sleep quality
• Increase your recognition of sense (i.e. smell)
• Increase endurance and strength
• Assist in gastric motility


According to research which appeared in the journal Science Advances, in the insect world, this brain chemical deals crickets a healthy dose of fear.  It effectively tells them to withdraw from a confrontation and flee.

Researchers administered nitric oxide to crickets and staged sparring matches to observe how the drug influenced fighting behavior. The result is that nitric oxide induces a flight response telling the losing cricket when it’s time to run. For hours after the match, the insect’s nitric-oxide addled brain continues to run paranoid.  “If you block nitric oxide they recover quickly, and if you give them nitric oxide they don’t,” said behavioral neurobiologist Paul Stevenson, a coauthor of the new research. “It’s a very simple algorithm for controlling a very complicated social situation.”

Crickets, well known for their remarkable fights, are a useful for studying aggression. It remains to be seen whether nitric oxide would produce similar responses in other animals. For humans, among other uses, nitric oxide has become the new secret weapon for athletes and bodybuilders. Athletes take supplements with L-arginine and L-citrulline to support blood and oxygen flow to the skeletal muscle. They also use them to facilitate the removal of exercise-induced lactic acid which reduces fatigue and recovery time.