A new twist on gyroscopic sensing: Body rotations lead to torsion in flapping, flexing insect wings

A. L. Eberle, B. H. Dickerson, P. G. Reinhall, T. L. Daniel

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

45 Scopus citations


Insects perform fast rotational manoeuvres during flight. While two insect orders use flapping halteres (specialized organs evolved from wings) to detect body dynamics, it is unknown how other insects detect rotational motions. Like halteres, insect wings experience gyroscopic forces when they are flapped and rotated and recent evidence suggests that wings might indeed mediate reflexes to body rotations. But, can gyroscopic forces be detected using only changes in the structural dynamics of a flapping, flexing insect wing? We built computational and robotic models to rotate a flapping wing about an axis orthogonal to flapping. We recorded high-speed video of the model wing, which had a flexural stiffness similar to the wing of the Manduca sexta hawkmoth, while flapping it at the wingbeat frequency of Manduca (25 Hz). We compared the three-dimensional structural dynamics of the wing with and without a 3 Hz, 108 rotation about the yaw axis. Our computational model revealed that body rotation induces a new dynamic mode: torsion. We verified our result by measuring wing tip displacement, shear strain and normal strain of the robotic wing. The strains we observed could stimulate an insect's mechanoreceptors and trigger reflexive responses to body rotations.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number20141088
JournalJournal of the Royal Society Interface
Issue number104
StatePublished - Mar 6 2015
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Bioengineering
  • Biophysics
  • Biochemistry
  • Biotechnology
  • Biomedical Engineering
  • Biomaterials


  • Computational modelling
  • Coriolis forces
  • Energy methods
  • Robotic actuation
  • Strain sensing
  • Wing flexibility


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