After graduating from Wesleyan University in Connecticut, Dr. Yager went to the University of Michigan Medical School. There he learned for the first time about the intimate linkage between brain function and behavior. This realization, coupled with a low affinity for working with sick humans, led him away from medicine and into the Ph.D. program in Neurobiology and Behavior at Cornell University. The first portion of his doctoral studies (with Robert Capranica) focused on communication underwater using sounds by African clawed frogs (Xenopus). The project included nine months of nocturnal field research in western Kenya. The second portion (with Ronald Hoy) grew out of his discovery of hearing in praying mantises. After completing his doctorate, Dr. Yager stayed at Cornell to do postdoctoral research with Carl Hopkins. The project involved neural recording in the central nervous system of weakly electric fish. He has continued his research on the evolution of hearing since joining the faculty at the University of Maryland, College Park in 1990. 

CV: Yager CV 2022450.69 KB


  • PhD
    Neurobiology & Behavior, Cornell University

The core of my research is trying to understand the evolution of sensory systems using the unique cyclopean auditory system of praying mantises as a model system and also extending the studies to other insects. Two papers that best outline the work of the lab are Yager (1999) and Yager and Svenson (2008). We follow several parallel research themes: comparative studies, auditory system neurophysiology, sound-triggered behaviors, anatomy/development of auditory systems, and evolutionary bioacoustics. The primary technique used for evolutionary studies is comparisons among large numbers of species from different lineages and from different locations around the world. Thus, my lab's comparative work on tiger beetle auditory behavior and mantis ear phylogeny involved collecting animals/data from many sites in all continents except Antarctica.  In parallel neurophysiological studies, we analyzed neural responses to sounds in peripheral nerves and individual CNS neurons. We integrate those studies with our third parallel research effort focusing on behavioral experiments that examine the ways the auditory system enhances the fitness of the animals. Finally, we worked in the realm of evolutionary bioacoustics from both comparative and developmental perspectives. We used laser vibrometry and ultra-high resolution micro-CT scans to create 2D and 3D models that showed the functional anatomy of the mantis auditory system. A recent finding, for instance, is that even though mantises have only one ear, they may have as many as four eardrums.

Research Methods
Axon Tracing
Research Interests
Sensory Integration
Auditory Neuroscience
Dr. David Yager
ddyager [at]