Control of moth flight posture is mediated by wing mechanosensory feedback

Bradley H. Dickerson, Zane N. Aldworth, Thomas L. Daniel

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

79 Scopus citations


Flying insects rapidly stabilize after perturbations using both visual and mechanosensory inputs for active control. Insect halteres are mechanosensory organs that encode inertial forces to aid rapid course correction during flight but serve no aerodynamic role and are specific to two orders of insects (Diptera and Strepsiptera). Aside from the literature on halteres and recent work on the antennae of the hawkmoth Manduca sexta, it is unclear how other flying insects use mechanosensory information to control body dynamics. The mechanosensory structures found on the halteres, campaniform sensilla, are also present on wings, suggesting that the wings can encode information about flight dynamics. We show that the neurons innervating these sensilla on the forewings of M. sexta exhibit spiketiming precision comparable to that seen in previous reports of campaniform sensilla, including haltere neurons. In addition, by attaching magnets to the wings of moths and subjecting these animals to a simulated pitch stimulus via a rotating magnetic field during tethered flight, we elicited the same vertical abdominal flexion reflex these animals exhibit in response to visual or inertial pitch stimuli. Our results indicate that, in addition to their role as actuators during locomotion, insect wings serve as sensors that initiate reflexes that control body dynamics.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2301-2308
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of Experimental Biology
Issue number13
StatePublished - Jul 1 2014
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Insect Science
  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Aquatic Science
  • Animal Science and Zoology
  • Molecular Biology
  • Physiology


  • Abdominal deflection
  • Flight control
  • Manduca sexta
  • Sensorimotor processing
  • Wings


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