Our recent study [O'Carroll et al. (1996). Nature 382, 63-66) described a correlation between the spatio-temporal properties of motion detecting neurons in the optic lobes of flying insects and behaviour. We consider here theoretical properties of insect motion detectors at very low image velocities and measure spatial and temporal sensitivity of neurons in the lobula complex of two specialised hovering insects, the bee-fly Bombylius and the hummingbird hawkmoth, Macroglossum. The spatio-temporal optima of direction-selective neurons in these insects lie at lower velocities than those of other insects which we have studied, including large syrphid flies, which are also excellent hoverers. We argue that spatio-temporal optima reflect a compromise between the demands of diverse behaviour, which can involve prolonged periods of stationary, hovering flight followed by spectacular high speed pursuits of conspecifics. Males of the syrphid Eristalis which engage in such behaviour, have higher temporal frequency optima than females. High contrast sensitivity in these flies nevertheless results in reliable responses at very low image velocities. Neurons of Bombylius have two distinct velocity optima, suggesting that they sum inputs from two classes of motion correlator with different time constants. This also provides sensitivity to a large range of velocities.