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Antennal Mechanosensors Mediate Flight Control in Moths

Science  09 Feb 2007:
Vol. 315, Issue 5813, pp. 863-866
DOI: 10.1126/science.1133598

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Abstract

Flying insects have evolved sophisticated sensory capabilities to achieve rapid course control during aerial maneuvers. Among two-winged insects such as houseflies and their relatives, the hind wings are modified into club-shaped, mechanosensory halteres, which detect Coriolis forces and thereby mediate flight stability during maneuvers. Here, we show that mechanosensory input from the antennae serves a similar role during flight in hawk moths, which are four-winged insects. The antennae of flying moths vibrate and experience Coriolis forces during aerial maneuvers. The antennal vibrations are transduced by individual units of Johnston's organs at the base of their antennae in a frequency range characteristic of the Coriolis input. Reduction of the mechanical input to Johnston's organs by removing the antennal flagellum of these moths severely disrupted their flight stability, but reattachment of the flagellum restored their flight control. The antennae thus play a crucial role in maintaining flight stability of moths.

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