Saccadic head and thorax movements in freely walking blowflies

J Comp Physiol A Neuroethol Sens Neural Behav Physiol. 2004 Nov;190(11):861-8. doi: 10.1007/s00359-004-0541-4. Epub 2004 Jul 20.


Visual information processing is adapted to the statistics of natural visual stimuli, and these statistics depend to a large extent on the movements of an animal itself. To investigate such movements in freely walking blowflies, we measured the orientation and position of their head and thorax, with high spatial and temporal accuracy. Experiments were performed on Calliphora vicina, Lucilia cuprina and L. caesar. We found that thorax and head orientation of walking flies is typically different from the direction of walking, with differences of 45 degrees common. During walking, the head and the thorax turn abruptly, with a frequency of 5-10 Hz and angular velocities in the order of 1,000 degrees /s. These saccades are stereotyped: head and thorax start simultaneously, with the head turning faster, and finishing its turn before the thorax. The changes in position during walking are saccade-like as well, occurring synchronously, but on average slightly after the orientation saccades. Between orientation saccades the angular velocities are low and the head is held more stable than the thorax. We argue that the strategy of turning by saccades improves the performance of the visual system of blowflies.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Diptera / classification
  • Diptera / physiology*
  • Feedback / physiology
  • Gait / physiology*
  • Head Movements / physiology*
  • Movement / physiology
  • Orientation / physiology
  • Periodicity
  • Saccades / physiology*
  • Species Specificity
  • Thorax / physiology*
  • Vision, Ocular / physiology*
  • Walking / physiology*