Automated monitoring and analysis of social behavior in Drosophila

Nat Methods. 2009 Apr;6(4):297-303. doi: 10.1038/nmeth.1310. Epub 2009 Mar 8.


We introduce a method based on machine vision for automatically measuring aggression and courtship in Drosophila melanogaster. The genetic and neural circuit bases of these innate social behaviors are poorly understood. High-throughput behavioral screening in this genetically tractable model organism is a potentially powerful approach, but it is currently very laborious. Our system monitors interacting pairs of flies and computes their location, orientation and wing posture. These features are used for detecting behaviors exhibited during aggression and courtship. Among these, wing threat, lunging and tussling are specific to aggression; circling, wing extension (courtship 'song') and copulation are specific to courtship; locomotion and chasing are common to both. Ethograms may be constructed automatically from these measurements, saving considerable time and effort. This technology should enable large-scale screens for genes and neural circuits controlling courtship and aggression.

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
  • Artificial Intelligence*
  • Behavior, Animal / physiology*
  • Drosophila melanogaster / anatomy & histology*
  • Drosophila melanogaster / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Image Interpretation, Computer-Assisted / methods*
  • Monitoring, Physiologic / methods*
  • Movement / physiology
  • Pattern Recognition, Automated / methods
  • Posture / physiology
  • Social Behavior*