Role of the light source position in freely falling hoverflies' stabilization performances

  • Goulard Roman
  • Verbe Anna
  • Vercher Jean-Louis
  • Viollet Stéphane

  • Dorsal light response
  • Dipterans
  • Hoverflies
  • Flight stabilization
  • Insect vision


The stabilization of plummeting hoverflies was filmed and analysed in terms of their wingbeat initiation times as well as the crash and stabilization rates. The flies experienced near-weightlessness for a period of time that depended on their ability to counteract the free fall by triggering their wing-beats. In this paradigm, hoverflies' flight stabilization strategies were investigated here for the first time under two different positions of the light source (overhead and bottom lighting). The crash rates were higher in bottom lighting conditions than with top lighting. In addition, adding a texture to the walls reduced the crash rates only in the overhead lighting condition. The position of the lighting also significantly affected both the stabilization rates and the time taken by the flies to stabilize, which decreased and increased under bottom lighting conditions, respectively, whereas tex-tured walls increased the stabilization rates under both lighting conditions. These results support the idea that flies may mainly base their flight control strategy on visual cues and particularly that the light distribution in the visual field may provide reliable, efficient cues for estimating their orientation with respect to an allocentric reference frame. In addition, the finding that the hoverflies' optic flow-based motion detection ability is affected by the position of the light source in their visual field suggests the occurrence of interactions between movement perception and this visual vertical perception process.