Role of wing pronation in evasive steering of locusts

J Comp Physiol A Neuroethol Sens Neural Behav Physiol. 2012 Jul;198(7):541-55. doi: 10.1007/s00359-012-0728-z. Epub 2012 May 1.


Evasive steering is crucial for flying in a crowded environment such as a locust swarm. We investigated how flying locusts alter wing-flapping symmetry in response to a looming object approaching from the side. Desert locusts (Schistocerca gregaria) were tethered to a rotatable shaft that allowed them to initiate a banked turn. A visual stimulus of an expending disk on one side of the locust was used to evoke steering while recording the change in wingbeat kinematics and electromyography (EMG) of metathoracic wing depressors. Locusts responded to the looming object by rolling to the contralateral direction. During turning, EMG of hindwing depressors showed an omission of one action potential in the subalar depressor (M129) of the hindwing inside the turn. This omission was associated with increased pronation of the same wing, reducing its angle-of-attack during the downstroke. The link between spike-omission in M129 and wing pronation was verified by stimulating the hindwing depressor muscles with an artificial motor pattern that included the misfire of M129. These results suggest that hindwing pronation is instrumental in rotating the body to the side opposite of the approaching threat. Turning away from the threat would be highly adaptive for collision avoidance when flying in dense swarms.

MeSH terms

  • Action Potentials
  • Animals
  • Biomechanical Phenomena
  • Cues
  • Electromyography
  • Female
  • Flight, Animal*
  • Grasshoppers / anatomy & histology
  • Grasshoppers / physiology*
  • Male
  • Motion Perception
  • Muscles / physiology
  • Photic Stimulation
  • Population Density
  • Pronation
  • Rotation
  • Social Environment
  • Space Perception
  • Time Factors
  • Video Recording
  • Visual Perception*
  • Wings, Animal / anatomy & histology
  • Wings, Animal / physiology*