Crossmodal Visual Input for Odor Tracking During Fly Flight

Curr Biol. 2008 Feb 26;18(4):270-5. doi: 10.1016/j.cub.2008.01.027. Epub 2008 Feb 14.


Flies generate robust and high-performance olfactory and visual behaviors. Adult fruit flies can distinguish small differences in odor concentration across antennae separated by less than 1 mm [1], and a single olfactory sensory neuron is sufficient for near-normal gradient tracking in larvae [2]. During flight a male housefly chasing a female executes a corrective turn within 40 ms after a course deviation by its target [3]. The challenges imposed by flying apparently benefit from the tight integration of unimodal sensory cues. Crossmodal interactions reduce the discrimination threshold for unimodal memory retrieval by enhancing stimulus salience [4], and dynamic crossmodal processing is required for odor search during free flight because animals fail to locate an odor source in the absence of rich visual feedback [5]. The visual requirements for odor localization are unknown. We tethered a hungry fly in a magnetic field, allowing it to yaw freely, presented odor plumes, and examined how visual cues influence odor tracking. We show that flies are unable to use a small-field object or landmark to assist plume tracking, whereas odor activates wide-field optomotor course control to enable accurate orientation toward an attractive food odor.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Appetitive Behavior / physiology*
  • Drosophila melanogaster / physiology*
  • Female
  • Flight, Animal / physiology*
  • Odorants
  • Smell / physiology*
  • Visual Perception / physiology*