Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)


College of Science and Mathematics



Thesis Sponsor/Dissertation Chair/Project Chair

Scott Kight

Committee Member

Lisa Hazard

Committee Member

John Smallwood


Belostomatidae--Behavior, Belostomatidae--Psychology, Phototaxis


Learning allows organisms to adjust their behavior to adapt to a changing environment. The premise of this study was to investigate the capacity for learning in the giant waterbug, Belostoma flumineum Say (Heteroptera: Belostomatidae). As part of these experiments, I was able to identify an apparent directional phototaxis and to use it as motivation in an operant conditioning study. Belostoma flumineum and has been observed to exhibit negative directional phototaxis. The first two parts of this study suggest that B. flumineum has a statistically significant preference for shadowed over illuminated areas, as well as a preference for black substrate over white substrate when introduced into a basin. These preferences are most likely linked to their life history. Belostoma flumineum typically hides in darker or shaded areas to avoid predators and stealth capture prey. These abilities and preferences were used in a subsequent experiment to investigate potential adaptive learning in B. flumineum. Given the predictable preference of B. flumineum for shaded areas, I was able use shade as a basis for a reward system. The waterbugs were rewarded with darkness for choosing the designated behavior. The results suggested that the waterbugs learned to associate a white substrate with the reward. During the experiment, the waterbugs appeared to have a bias toward one side of the room when introduced into the basin, but this did not statistically account for the association between positional behavior and reward. This study provides insight into the strength of directional phototaxis and adaptive learning in B. flumineum.

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