Journal of Comparative Physiology A

, Volume 166, Issue 5, pp 663–673 | Cite as

Histological and electrophysiological investigations on the vibration-sensitive receptors (Herbst corpuscles) in the wing of the pigeon (Columba livia)

  • Wolfgang Hörster


The Herbst corpuscles (HCs) of the pigeon's wing were investigated both histologically and electrophysiologically. All HCs found in the wing were lamellated, basic type corpuscles without any specialized structures. Their lengths ranged from 67 to 853 μm (mean = 310 μm). Unexpected findings were their large number (about 1000 in the manual part of the wing), their irregular distribution and their preferred orientation (approximately parallel or at right angles to the primary feather follicles). The HCs were highly sensitive to vibrational stimuli applied to wing feathers. Their electrophysiological behaviour has the following characteristics: no spontaneous activity, phase-locked nerve impulses, a 1∶1 stimulus-response relation up to at least 660 Hz at sufficiently high stimulus amplitudes, and a sensitivity to stimulus frequencies up to 1800 Hz. The best frequencies of 52 receptive units for which complete threshold curves were obtained lay between 100 and 900 Hz, 67% of the best frequencies were between 200 and 400 Hz. The threshold amplitudes at best frequency ranged from 0.5 to 150 μm. Two virtually non-overlapping mechanosensitive areas on the wing were identified. One is a very narrow band along the frontal edge and the other covers a large area of the remaining wing. They correspond with the two branches of the radial nerve. The histological and electrophysiological findings suggest that the HCs are part of a vibrational sensory system that is principally involved in flight control. The actual aerodynamic state during flight could be detected by the frontal receptive area, and flight behaviour could be adjusted accordingly. The effectiveness of these corrective reactions would then be assessed on the basis of air current changes along the caudal wing edge by the caudal receptive area. Despite some physiological differences considerable similarities between HCs and Pacinian corpuscles support the hypothesis that they evolved from a unique ancestral lamellar receptor.

Key words

Pigeon Vibrational receptor Receptor arrangement Vibrational sensitivity Flight control 



Herbst corpuscle(s)


Pacinian corpuscle(s)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 1990

Authors and Affiliations

  • Wolfgang Hörster
    • 1
  1. 1.Allgemeine PsychologieUniversität KonstanzKonstanzFederal Republic of Germany

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