Antennae in the hawkmoth Manduca sexta (Lepidoptera, Sphingidae) mediate abdominal flexion in response to mechanical stimuli


Flying insects rely on the integration of feedback signals from multiple sensory modalities. Thus, in addition to the visual input, mechanosensory information from antennae is crucial for stable flight in the hawkmoth Manduca sexta. However, the nature of compensatory reflexes mediated by mechanoreceptors on the antennae is unknown. In this study we describe an abdominal flexion response mediated by the antennal mechanosensory input during mechanical body rotations. Such reflexive abdominal motions lead to shifts in the animal’s center of mass, and therefore changes in flight trajectory. Moths respond with abdominal flexion both to visual and mechanical rotations, but the mechanical response depends on the presence of the mass of the flagellum. In addition, the mechanically mediated flexion response is about 200° out of phase with the visual response and adds linearly to it. Phase-shifting feedback signals in such a manner can lead to a more stable behavioral output response when the animal is faced with turbulent perturbations to the flight path.

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We thank Michael Reiser for engineering the LED panels system and for his helpful advice when setting it up, and David Williams for help with the stepper motor controller. In addition we are grateful to K. Morgansen Hill, Z. Aldworth, A. Mountcastle, B. Medina, and other members of the Daniel lab for critical reviews of the manuscript. Support was provided by the Joan and Richard Komen Endowed Chair and grants form DARPA and ONR to TLD.

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Correspondence to Armin J. Hinterwirth.

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Hinterwirth, A.J., Daniel, T.L. Antennae in the hawkmoth Manduca sexta (Lepidoptera, Sphingidae) mediate abdominal flexion in response to mechanical stimuli. J Comp Physiol A 196, 947–956 (2010).

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  • Insect flight control
  • Sensory integration
  • Antennae
  • Inertial sensing
  • Vision