Wireless stimulation of antennal muscles in freely flying hawkmoths leads to flight path changes

PLoS One. 2012;7(12):e52725. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0052725. Epub 2012 Dec 26.


Insect antennae are sensory organs involved in a variety of behaviors, sensing many different stimulus modalities. As mechanosensors, they are crucial for flight control in the hawkmoth Manduca sexta. One of their roles is to mediate compensatory reflexes of the abdomen in response to rotations of the body in the pitch axis. Abdominal motions, in turn, are a component of the steering mechanism for flying insects. Using a radio controlled, programmable, miniature stimulator, we show that ultra-low-current electrical stimulation of antennal muscles in freely-flying hawkmoths leads to repeatable, transient changes in the animals' pitch angle, as well as less predictable changes in flight speed and flight altitude. We postulate that by deflecting the antennae we indirectly stimulate mechanoreceptors at the base, which drive compensatory reflexes leading to changes in pitch attitude.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Arthropod Antennae / cytology
  • Arthropod Antennae / innervation
  • Arthropod Antennae / physiology*
  • Electric Stimulation
  • Flight, Animal*
  • Manduca / cytology
  • Manduca / physiology*
  • Mechanoreceptors / physiology
  • Mechanotransduction, Cellular*
  • Muscles / physiology
  • Wireless Technology

Grants and funding

This work was supported by a Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) grant to JV, JGH and TLD, and funds from the University of Washington (UW) Komen Endowed Chair to TLD. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.