Insects represent more than 60% of all multicellular life forms, and are easily among the most diverse and abundant organisms on earth. They evolved functional wings and the ability to fly, which enabled them to occupy diverse niches. Insects of the hyper-diverse orders show extreme miniaturization of their body size. The reduced body size, however, imposes steep constraints on flight ability, as their wings must flap faster to generate sufficient forces to stay aloft. Here, we discuss the various physiological and biomechanical adaptations of the thorax in flies which enabled them to overcome the myriad constraints of small body size, while ensuring very precise control of their wing motion. One such adaptation is the evolution of specialized myogenic or asynchronous muscles that power the high-frequency wing motion, in combination with neurogenic or synchronous steering muscles that control higher-order wing kinematic patterns. Additionally, passive cuticular linkages within the thorax coordinate fast and yet precise bilateral wing movement, in combination with an actively controlled clutch and gear system that enables flexible flight patterns. Thus, the study of thoracic biomechanics, along with the underlying sensory-motor processing, is central in understanding how the insect body form is adapted for flight.
The authors declare no competing or financial interests.
Funds were provided by the US Air Force Office of Scientific Research, Asian Office of Aerospace Research and Development (AOARD 114057); the International Technology Center–Pacific (ITC-PAC); and Ramanujan Fellowships from the Science and Engineering Research Board, Department of Science and Technology, Government of India (to S.P.S. and N.G.).
Supplementary information available online at http://jeb.biologists.org/lookup/doi/10.1242/jeb.128363.supplemental
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