How do hoverflies use their righting reflex?

  • Verbe Anna
  • Varennes Léandre
  • Vercher Jean-Louis
  • Viollet Stéphane

  • Righting reflex
  • Syrphidae
  • Hoverflies
  • Episyrphus balteatus
  • Insect flight
  • Body orientation


When taking off from a sloping surface, flies have to reorient themselves dorsoventrally and stabilize their body by actively controlling their flapping wings. We have observed that the righting is achieved solely by performing a rolling manoeuvre. How flies manage to do this has not yet been elucidated. It was observed here for the first time that hoverflies reorientation is entirely achieved within 6 wingbeats (48.8ms) at angular roll velocities of up to 3 10 10 s and that the onset of their head rotation consistently follows that of their body rotation after a time-lag of 16ms. The insects body roll was found to be triggered by the asymmetric wing stroke amplitude, as expected. The righting process starts immediately with the first wingbeat and seems unlikely to depend on visual feedback. A dynamic model for the fly s righting reflex is presented, which accounts for the head/body movements and the time-lag recorded in these experiments. This model consists of a closed-loop control of the body roll, combined with a feedforward control of the head/body angle. During the righting manoeuvre, a strong coupling seems to exist between the activation of the halteres (which measure the body s angular speed) and the gaze stabilization reflex. These findings again confirm the fundamental role played by the halteres in both body and head stabilisation processes.