Behavioural evidence for a visual and proprioceptive control of head roll in hoverflies (Episyrphus balteatus)

  • Goulard Roman
  • Julien-Laferrière Alice
  • Fleuriet Jerome
  • Vercher Jean-Louis
  • Viollet Stephane

  • Gaze control
  • Proprioception
  • Vision
  • Model
  • Feedback control
  • Dipterous
  • Insect
  • Horizon


The ability of hoverflies to control their head orientation with respect to their body contributes importantly to their agility and their autonomous navigation abilities. Many tasks performed by this insect during flight, especially while hovering, involve a head stabilization reflex. This reflex, which is mediated by multisensory channels, prevents the visual processing from being disturbed by motion blur and maintains a consistent perception of the visual environment. The so-called dorsal light response (DLR) is another head control reflex, which makes insects sensitive to the brightest part of the visual field. In this study, we experimentally validate and quantify the control loop driving the head roll with respect to the horizon in hoverflies. The new approach developed here consisted of using an upside-down horizon in a body roll paradigm. In this unusual configuration, tethered flying hoverflies surprisingly no longer use purely vision-based control for head stabilization. These results shed new light on the role of neck proprioceptor organs in head and body stabilization with respect to the horizon. Based on the responses obtained with male and female hoverflies, an improved model was then developed in which the output signals delivered by the neck proprioceptor organs are combined with the visual error in the estimated position of the body roll. An internal estimation of the body roll angle with respect to the horizon might explain the extremely accurate flight performances achieved by some hovering insects.