Body appendages fine-tune posture and moments in freely manoeuvring fruit flies

R. Berthe, F.-O. Lehmann
2015 Journal of Experimental Biology  
The precise control of body posture by turning moments is a key to elevated locomotor performance in flying animals. Although elevated moments for body stabilization are typically produced by wing aerodynamics, animals also steer using drag on body appendages, shifting their centre of body mass, and changing moments of inertia owing to active alterations in body shape. To estimate the instantaneous contribution of each of these components for posture control in an insect, we threedimensionally
more » ... econstructed body posture and movements of body appendages in freely manoeuvring fruit flies Drosophila melanogaster by high speed video and experimentally scored drag coefficients of legs and body trunk at low Reynolds number. The results show that the sum of leg-and abdomen-induced yaw moments dominates wing-induced moments during 17% of total flight time but on average is 7.2-times (roll, 3.4-times) smaller during manoeuvring. Our data reject a previous hypothesis on synergistic moment support, indicating that drag on body appendages and mass-shift inhibit rather than support turning moments produced by the wings. Numerical modelling further shows that hind leg extension alters the moments of inertia around the three main body axes of the animal by not more than 6% during manoeuvring, which is significantly less than previously reported for other insects. In sum, yaw, pitch, and roll steering by body appendages likely fine-tunes turning behaviour and body posture, without providing a significant advantage for posture stability and moment support. Motion control of appendages might thus be part of the insect's trimming reflexes that trim out imbalances in moment generation owing to unilateral wing damage and abnormal asymmetries of the flight apparatus.
doi:10.1242/jeb.122408 pmid:26347566 fatcat:usrh2pitpbbpdhymudsh4awarq