Send to

Choose Destination
Curr Biol. 2010 Sep 14;20(17):1550-6. doi: 10.1016/j.cub.2010.07.025. Epub 2010 Aug 19.

Visual control of altitude in flying Drosophila.

Author information

Bioengineering, California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, CA 91125, USA.


Unlike creatures that walk, flying animals need to control their horizontal motion as well as their height above the ground. Research on insects, the first animals to evolve flight, has revealed several visual reflexes that are used to govern horizontal course. For example, insects orient toward prominent vertical features in their environment [1-5] and generate compensatory reactions to both rotations [6, 7] and translations [1, 8-11] of the visual world. Insects also avoid impending collisions by veering away from visual expansion [9, 12-14]. In contrast to this extensive understanding of the visual reflexes that regulate horizontal course, the sensory-motor mechanisms that animals use to control altitude are poorly understood. Using a 3D virtual reality environment, we found that Drosophila utilize three reflexes--edge tracking, wide-field stabilization, and expansion avoidance--to control altitude. By implementing a dynamic visual clamp, we found that flies do not regulate altitude by maintaining a fixed value of optic flow beneath them, as suggested by a recent model [15]. The results identify a means by which insects determine their absolute height above the ground and uncover a remarkable correspondence between the sensory-motor algorithms used to regulate motion in the horizontal and vertical domains.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]
Free full text

Supplemental Content

Full text links

Icon for Elsevier Science
Loading ...
Support Center