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Published April 2009 | Supplemental Material + Accepted Version
Journal Article Open

Automated monitoring and analysis of social behavior in Drosophila


We introduce a method based on machine vision for automatically measuring aggression and courtship in Drosophila melanogaster. The genetic and neural circuit bases of these innate social behaviors are poorly understood. High-throughput behavioral screening in this genetically tractable model organism is a potentially powerful approach, but it is currently very laborious. Our system monitors interacting pairs of flies and computes their location, orientation and wing posture. These features are used for detecting behaviors exhibited during aggression and courtship. Among these, wing threat, lunging and tussling are specific to aggression; circling, wing extension (courtship 'song') and copulation are specific to courtship; locomotion and chasing are common to both. Ethograms may be constructed automatically from these measurements, saving considerable time and effort. This technology should enable large-scale screens for genes and neural circuits controlling courtship and aggression.

Additional Information

© 2009 Nature Publishing Group. Received 29 September 2008; Accepted 04 February 2009; Published 08 March 2009. We thank K. Watanabe and A. Hergarden for helping prepare the flies, assays, taking video footage of flies as well as collecting ground-truth data. This work was supported by a National Science Foundation Frontiers in Integrative Biological Research grant to M.J. Dickinson, D.J.A. and E. Isacoff, a National Science Foundation National Institutes of Health grant to P.P. and M.J. Dickinson, and a postdoctoral fellowship of the Alexander von Humboldt-Foundation to H.D. We thank M. Heisenberg for sponsoring H.D. in Germany and for sharing information and data regarding aggression arenas and automated assays.


In the version of this article initially published online, an attribution was omitted. The observation that genetic feminization of cholinergic neurons increases aggression was originally reported in abstract form (Y.B. Chan and E.A. Kravitz, Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Neurobiology of Drosophila Abstracts, 42, 2005). The error has been corrected for the print, PDF and HTML versions of this article.

Attached Files

Accepted Version - nihms97287.pdf

Supplemental Material - Dankert2009p1449Nat_Methods_supp.pdf

Supplemental Material - Dankert2009p1449Nat_Methods_supp_software.zip

Supplemental Material - Dankert2009p1449Nat_Methods_video_1.mov

Supplemental Material - Dankert2009p1449Nat_Methods_video_10.mov

Supplemental Material - Dankert2009p1449Nat_Methods_video_2.mov

Supplemental Material - Dankert2009p1449Nat_Methods_video_3.mov

Supplemental Material - Dankert2009p1449Nat_Methods_video_4.mov

Supplemental Material - Dankert2009p1449Nat_Methods_video_5.mov

Supplemental Material - Dankert2009p1449Nat_Methods_video_6.mov

Supplemental Material - Dankert2009p1449Nat_Methods_video_7.mov

Supplemental Material - Dankert2009p1449Nat_Methods_video_8.mov

Supplemental Material - Dankert2009p1449Nat_Methods_video_9.mov


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August 20, 2023
October 18, 2023