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Published January 18, 2008 | Published
Journal Article Open

Performance trade-offs in the flight initiation of Drosophila


The fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster performs at least two distinct types of flight initiation. One kind is a stereotyped escape response to a visual stimulus that is mediated by the hard-wired giant fiber neural pathway, and the other is a more variable `voluntary' response that can be performed without giant fiber activation. Because the simpler escape take-offs are apparently successful, it is unclear why the fly has multiple pathways to coordinate flight initiation. In this study we use high-speed videography to observe flight initiation in unrestrained wild-type flies and assess the flight performance of each of the two types of take-off. Three-dimensional kinematic analysis of take-off sequences indicates that wing use during the jumping phase of flight initiation is essential for stabilizing flight. During voluntary take-offs, early wing elevation leads to a slower and more stable take-off. In contrast, during visually elicited escapes, the wings are pulled down close to the body during take-off, resulting in tumbling flights in which the fly translates faster but also rotates rapidly about all three of its body axes. Additionally, we find evidence that the power delivered by the legs is substantially greater during visually elicited escapes than during voluntary take-offs. Thus, we find that the two types of Drosophila flight initiation result in different flight performances once the fly is airborne, and that these performances are distinguished by a trade-off between speed and stability.

Additional Information

© 2008. The Company of Biologists Limited. Accepted 12 November 2007. First published online January 18, 2008. The authors wish to thank Will Dickson for his helpful discussion. This research was supported by grants from the National Science Foundation (0217229 and EF-0623527) and by a Gordon and Betty Moore fellowship.

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August 22, 2023
August 22, 2023