Flies Regulate Wing Motion via Active Control of a Dual-Function Gyroscope.
ABSTRACT: Flies execute their remarkable aerial maneuvers using a set of wing steering muscles, which are activated at specific phases of the stroke cycle [1-3]. The activation phase of these muscles-which determines their biomechanical output [4-6]-arises via feedback from mechanoreceptors at the base of the wings and structures unique to flies called halteres [7-9]. Evolved from the hindwings, the tiny halteres oscillate at the same frequency as the wings, although they serve no aerodynamic function  and are thought to act as gyroscopes [10-15]. Like the wings, halteres possess minute control muscles whose activity is modified by descending visual input , raising the possibility that flies control wing motion by adjusting the motor output of their halteres, although this hypothesis has never been directly tested. Here, using genetic techniques possible in Drosophila melanogaster, we tested the hypothesis that visual input during flight modulates haltere muscle activity and that this, in turn, alters the mechanosensory feedback that regulates the wing steering muscles. Our results suggest that rather than acting solely as a gyroscope to detect body rotation, halteres also function as an adjustable clock to set the spike timing of wing motor neurons, a specialized capability that evolved from the generic flight circuitry of their four-winged ancestors. In addition to demonstrating how the efferent control loop of a sensory structure regulates wing motion, our results provide insight into the selective scenario that gave rise to the evolution of halteres.
Project description:The mechanics of Dipteran thorax is dictated by a network of exoskeletal linkages that, when deformed by the flight muscles, generate coordinated wing movements. In Diptera, the forewings power flight, whereas the hindwings have evolved into specialized structures called halteres, which provide rapid mechanosensory feedback for flight stabilization. Although actuated by independent muscles, wing and haltere motion is precisely phase-coordinated at high frequencies. Because wingbeat frequency is a product of wing-thorax resonance, any wear-and-tear of wings or thorax should impair flight ability. How robust is the Dipteran flight system against such perturbations? Here, we show that wings and halteres are independently driven, coupled oscillators. We systematically reduced the wing length in flies and observed how wing-haltere synchronization was affected. The wing-wing system is a strongly coupled oscillator, whereas the wing-haltere system is weakly coupled through mechanical linkages that synchronize phase and frequency. Wing-haltere link acts in a unidirectional manner; altering wingbeat frequency affects haltere frequency, but not vice versa. Exoskeletal linkages are thus key morphological features of the Dipteran thorax that ensure wing-haltere synchrony, despite severe wing damage.
Project description:Multisensory integration is a prerequisite for effective locomotor control in most animals. Especially, the impressive aerial performance of insects relies on rapid and precise integration of multiple sensory modalities that provide feedback on different time scales. In flies, continuous visual signalling from the compound eyes is fused with phasic proprioceptive feedback to ensure precise neural activation of wing steering muscles (WSM) within narrow temporal phase bands of the stroke cycle. This phase-locked activation relies on mechanoreceptors distributed over wings and gyroscopic halteres. Here we investigate visual steering performance of tethered flying fruit flies with reduced haltere and wing feedback signalling. Using a flight simulator, we evaluated visual object fixation behaviour, optomotor altitude control and saccadic escape reflexes. The behavioural assays show an antagonistic effect of wing and haltere signalling on visuomotor gain during flight. Compared with controls, suppression of haltere feedback attenuates while suppression of wing feedback enhances the animal's wing steering range. Our results suggest that the generation of motor commands owing to visual perception is dynamically controlled by proprioception. We outline a potential physiological mechanism based on the biomechanical properties of WSM and sensory integration processes at the level of motoneurons. Collectively, the findings contribute to our general understanding how moving animals integrate sensory information with dynamically changing temporal structure.
Project description:Animals rapidly collect and act on incoming information to navigate complex environments, making the precise timing of sensory feedback critical in the context of neural circuit function. Moreover, the timing of sensory input determines the biomechanical properties of muscles that undergo cyclic length changes, as during locomotion. Both of these issues come to a head in the case of flying insects, as these animals execute steering manoeuvres at timescales approaching the upper limits of performance for neuromechanical systems. Among insects, flies stand out as especially adept given their ability to execute manoeuvres that require sub-millisecond control of steering muscles. Although vision is critical, here I review the role of rapid, wingbeat-synchronous mechanosensory feedback from the wings and structures unique to flies, the halteres. The visual system and descending interneurons of the brain employ a spike rate coding scheme to relay commands to the wing steering system. By contrast, mechanosensory feedback operates at faster timescales and in the language of motor neurons, i.e. spike timing, allowing wing and haltere input to dynamically structure the output of the wing steering system. Although the halteres have been long known to provide essential input to the wing steering system as gyroscopic sensors, recent evidence suggests that the feedback from these vestigial hindwings is under active control. Thus, flies may accomplish manoeuvres through a conserved hindwing circuit, regulating the firing phase-and thus, the mechanical power output-of the wing steering muscles.
Project description:In the true flies (Diptera), the hind wings have evolved into specialized mechanosensory organs known as halteres, which are sensitive to gyroscopic and other inertial forces. Together with the fly's visual system, the halteres direct head and wing movements through a suite of equilibrium reflexes that are crucial to the fly's ability to maintain stable flight. As in other animals (including humans), this presents challenges to the nervous system as equilibrium reflexes driven by the inertial sensory system must be integrated with those driven by the visual system in order to control an overlapping pool of motor outputs shared between the two of them. Here, we introduce an experimental paradigm for reproducibly altering haltere stroke kinematics and use it to quantify multisensory integration of wing and gaze equilibrium reflexes. We show that multisensory wing-steering responses reflect a linear superposition of haltere-driven and visually driven responses, but that multisensory gaze responses are not well predicted by this framework. These models, based on populations, extend also to the responses of individual flies.
Project description:The spectacular success and diversification of insects rests critically on two major evolutionary adaptations. First, the evolution of flight, which enhanced the ability of insects to colonize novel ecological habitats, evade predators, or hunt prey; and second, the miniaturization of their body size, which profoundly influenced all aspects of their biology from development to behavior. However, miniaturization imposes steep demands on the flight system because smaller insects must flap their wings at higher frequencies to generate sufficient aerodynamic forces to stay aloft; it also poses challenges to the sensorimotor system because precise control of wing kinematics and body trajectories requires fast sensory feedback. These tradeoffs are best studied in Dipteran flies in which rapid mechanosensory feedback to wing motor system is provided by halteres, reduced hind wings that evolved into gyroscopic sensors. Halteres oscillate at the same frequency as and precisely antiphase to the wings; they detect body rotations during flight, thus providing feedback that is essential for controlling wing motion during aerial maneuvers. Although tight phase synchrony between halteres and wings is essential for providing proper timing cues, the mechanisms underlying this coordination are not well understood. Here, we identify specific mechanical linkages within the thorax that passively mediate both wing-wing and wing-haltere phase synchronization. We demonstrate that the wing hinge must possess a clutch system that enables flies to independently engage or disengage each wing from the mechanically linked thorax. In concert with a previously described gearbox located within the wing hinge, the clutch system enables independent control of each wing. These biomechanical features are essential for flight control in flies.
Project description:The order Diptera (true flies) are named for their two wings because their hindwings have evolved into specialized mechanosensory organs called halteres. Flies use halteres to detect body rotations and maintain stability during flight and other behaviours. The most recently diverged dipteran monophyletic subsection, the Calyptratae, is highly successful, accounting for approximately 12% of dipteran diversity, and includes common families like house flies. These flies move their halteres independently from their wings and oscillate their halteres during walking. Here, we demonstrate that this subsection of flies uses their halteres to stabilize their bodies during takeoff, whereas non-Calyptratae flies do not. We find that flies of the Calyptratae are able to take off more rapidly than non-Calyptratae flies without sacrificing stability. Haltere removal decreased both velocity and stability in the takeoffs of Calyptratae, but not other flies. The loss of takeoff velocity following haltere removal in Calyptratae (but not other flies) is a direct result of a decrease in leg extension speed. A closely related non-Calyptratae species (<i>D. melanogaster</i>) also has a rapid takeoff, but takeoff duration and stability are unaffected by haltere removal. Haltere use thus allows for greater speed and stability during fast escapes, but only in the Calyptratae clade.
Project description:The halteres of flies are mechanosensory organs that provide information about body rotations during flight. We measured haltere movements in a range of fly taxa during free walking and tethered flight. We find a diversity of wing-haltere phase relationships in flight, with higher variability in more ancient families and less in more derived families. Diverse haltere movements were observed during free walking and were correlated with phylogeny. We predicted that haltere removal might decrease behavioural performance in those flies that move them during walking and provide evidence that this is the case. Our comparative approach reveals previously unknown diversity in haltere movements and opens the possibility of multiple functional roles for halteres in different fly behaviours.
Project description:Dipteran flies are amongst the smallest and most agile of flying animals. Their wings are driven indirectly by large power muscles, which cause cyclical deformations of the thorax that are amplified through the intricate wing hinge. Asymmetric flight manoeuvres are controlled by 13 pairs of steering muscles acting directly on the wing articulations. Collectively the steering muscles account for <3% of total flight muscle mass, raising the question of how they can modulate the vastly greater output of the power muscles during manoeuvres. Here we present the results of a synchrotron-based study performing micrometre-resolution, time-resolved microtomography on the 145 Hz wingbeat of blowflies. These data represent the first four-dimensional visualizations of an organism's internal movements on sub-millisecond and micrometre scales. This technique allows us to visualize and measure the three-dimensional movements of five of the largest steering muscles, and to place these in the context of the deforming thoracic mechanism that the muscles actuate. Our visualizations show that the steering muscles operate through a diverse range of nonlinear mechanisms, revealing several unexpected features that could not have been identified using any other technique. The tendons of some steering muscles buckle on every wingbeat to accommodate high amplitude movements of the wing hinge. Other steering muscles absorb kinetic energy from an oscillating control linkage, which rotates at low wingbeat amplitude but translates at high wingbeat amplitude. Kinetic energy is distributed differently in these two modes of oscillation, which may play a role in asymmetric power management during flight control. Structural flexibility is known to be important to the aerodynamic efficiency of insect wings, and to the function of their indirect power muscles. We show that it is integral also to the operation of the steering muscles, and so to the functional flexibility of the insect flight motor.
Project description:Flying insects use feedback from various sensory modalities including vision and mechanosensation to navigate through their environment. The rapid speed of mechanosensory information acquisition and processing compensates for the slower processing times associated with vision, particularly under low light conditions. While halteres in dipteran species are well known to provide such information for flight control, less is understood about the mechanosensory roles of their evolutionary antecedent, wings. The features that wing mechanosensory neurons (campaniform sensilla) encode remains relatively unexplored. We hypothesized that the wing campaniform sensilla of the hawkmoth, Manduca sexta, rapidly and selectively extract mechanical stimulus features in a manner similar to halteres. We used electrophysiological and computational techniques to characterize the encoding properties of wing campaniform sensilla. To accomplish this, we developed a novel technique for localizing receptive fields using a focused IR laser that elicits changes in the neural activity of mechanoreceptors. We found that (i) most wing mechanosensors encoded mechanical stimulus features rapidly and precisely, (ii) they are selective for specific stimulus features, and (iii) there is diversity in the encoding properties of wing campaniform sensilla. We found that the encoding properties of wing campaniform sensilla are similar to those for haltere neurons. Therefore, it appears that the neural architecture that underlies the haltere sensory function is present in wings, which lends credence to the notion that wings themselves may serve a similar sensory function. Thus, wings may not only function as the primary actuator of the organism but also as sensors of the inertial dynamics of the animal.
Project description:The halteres of flies are mechanosensory organs that serve a crucial role in the control of agile flight, providing sensory input for rapid course corrections to perturbations. Derived from hind wings, halteres are actively flapped and are thus subject to a variety of inertial forces as the fly undergoes complex flight trajectories. Previous analyses of halteres modelled them as a point mass, showing that Coriolis forces lead to subtle deflections orthogonal to the plane of flapping. By design, these models could not consider the effects of force gradients associated with a mass distribution, nor could they reveal three-dimensional spatio-temporal patterns of strain that result from those forces. In addition, diversity in the geometry of halteres, such as shape and asymmetries, could not be simply modelled with a point mass on a massless rod. To study the effects of mass distributions and asymmetries, we examine the haltere subject to both flapping and body rotations using three-dimensional finite-element simulations. We focus on a set of simplified geometries, in which we vary the stalk and bulb shape. We find that haltere mass distribution gives rise to two unreported deformation modes: (i) halteres twist with a magnitude that strongly depends on stalk and bulb geometry and (ii) halteres with an asymmetric mass distribution experience out-of-plane bending due to centrifugal forces, independent of body rotation. Since local strains at the base of the haltere drive deformations of mechanosensory neurons, we combined measured neural encoding mechanisms with our structural analyses to predict the spatial and temporal patterns of neural activity. This activity depends on both the flapping and rotation dynamics, and we show how the timing of neural activity is a viable mechanism for rotation-rate encoding. Our results provide new insights in haltere dynamics and show the viability for timing-based encoding of fly body rotations by halteres.