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Bull Entomol Res. 2009 Apr;99(2):107-19. doi: 10.1017/S0007485308006160. Epub 2008 Oct 28.

Hearing in tsetse flies? Morphology and mechanics of a putative auditory organ.

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  • 1School of Biological Sciences, Woodland Road, University of Bristol, Bristol, UK.


Tympanal hearing organs are widely used by insects to detect sound pressure. Such ears are relatively uncommon in the order Diptera, having only been reported in two families thus far. This study describes the general anatomical organization and experimentally examines the mechanical resonant properties of an unusual membranous structure situated on the ventral prothorax of the tsetse fly, Glossina morsitans (Diptera: Glossinidae). Anatomically, the prosternal membrane is backed by an air filled chamber and attaches to a pair of sensory chordotonal organs. Mechanically, the membrane shows a broad resonance around 5.3-7.2 kHz. Unlike previously reported dipteran tympana, a directional response to sound was not found in G. morsitans. Collectively, the morphology, the resonant properties and acoustic sensitivity of the tsetse prothorax are consistent with those of the tympanal hearing organs in Ormia sp. and Emblemasoma sp. (Tachinidae and Sarcophagidae). The production of sound by several species of tsetse flies has been repeatedly documented. Yet, clear behavioural evidence for acoustic behaviour is sparse and inconclusive. Together with sound production, the presence of an ear-like structure raises the enticing possibility of auditory communication in tsetse flies and renews interest in the sensory biology of these medically important insects.

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