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The active control of wing rotation by Drosophila
M. H. Dickinson, F. O. Lehmann, K. G. Gotz


This paper investigates the temporal control of a fast wing rotation in flies, the ventral flip, which occurs during the transition from downstroke to upstroke. Tethered flying Drosophila actively modulate the timing of these rapid supinations during yaw responses evoked by an oscillating visual stimulus. The time difference between the two wings is controlled such that the wing on the outside of a fictive turn rotates in advance of its contralateral partner. This modulation of ventral-flip timing between the two wings is strongly coupled with changes in wing-stroke amplitude. Typically, an increase in the stroke amplitude of one wing is correlated with an advance in the timing of the ventral flip of the same wing. However, flies do display a limited ability to control these two behaviors independently, as shown by flight records in which the correlation between ventral-flip timing and stroke amplitude transiently reverses. The control of ventral-flip timing may be part of an unsteady aerodynamic mechanism that enables the fly to alter the magnitude and direction of flight forces during turning maneuvers.