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 on CNS processing in weakly electric fish. He has been on the faculty at the University of Maryland at College Park since 1990. Funded by NIH and NSF, Dr. Yager’s research focused on the linkage between brain function and behavior using insect auditory systems as models. In recent years, he has focused primarily on undergraduate education.


  • PhD
    Neurobiology and Behavior, Cornell University, 1989
  • BA
    Biology, Wesleyan University, 1972

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. 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, our work with colleagues used data collected at major museums in North America and Europe, and multiple collecting trips to all continents except Antarctica. In parallel neurophysiological studies, we are analyzing the changes that take place within the activity of central nervous system 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. My recently funded NSF grant continues the themes of the lab, but also takes us into the realm of evolutionary bioacoustics. We suspected, based on research done by some undergrads in my lab, that even though mantises have only one ear, they may have as many as four eardrums. We continue projects of laser vibrometry measurements of tympana vibration along with ultra-high resolution 3D CAT scans created using the synchrotron at Argonne National Lab to explore this possibility.

David D. Yager
2123L BPS
Department of Psychology
ddyager [at]
Office Hours
Monday 10:00-11:00; Wednesday 1:30-3:00; Friday 10:00-12:00; and by appointment