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Elife. 2016 Apr 20;5. pii: e14449. doi: 10.7554/eLife.14449.

Airflow and optic flow mediate antennal positioning in flying honeybees.

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National Centre for Biological Sciences, Tata Institute of Fundamental Research, Bangalore, India.


To maintain their speeds during navigation, insects rely on feedback from their visual and mechanosensory modalities. Although optic flow plays an essential role in speed determination, it is less reliable under conditions of low light or sparse landmarks. Under such conditions, insects rely on feedback from antennal mechanosensors but it is not clear how these inputs combine to elicit flight-related antennal behaviours. We here show that antennal movements of the honeybee, Apis mellifera, are governed by combined visual and antennal mechanosensory inputs. Frontal airflow, as experienced during forward flight, causes antennae to actively move forward as a sigmoidal function of absolute airspeed values. However, corresponding front-to-back optic flow causes antennae to move backward, as a linear function of relative optic flow, opposite the airspeed response. When combined, these inputs maintain antennal position in a state of dynamic equilibrium.


Apis mellifera; Johnston's organs; antennal mechanosensors; ecology; multimodal; neuroscience; optic flow; speedometry

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