Animals typically combine inertial and visual information to stabilize their gaze against confounding self-generated visual motion, and to maintain a level gaze when the body is perturbed by external forces. In vertebrates, an inner ear vestibular system provides information about body rotations and accelerations, but gaze stabilization is less understood in insects, which lack a vestibular organ. In flies, the halteres, reduced hindwings imbued with hundreds of mechanosensory cells, sense inertial forces and provide input to neck motoneurons that control gaze. These neck motoneurons also receive input from the visual system. Head movement responses to visual motion and physical rotations of the body have been measured independently, but how inertial information might influence gaze responses to visual motion has not been fully explored. We measured the head movement responses to visual motion in intact and haltere-ablated tethered flies to explore the haltere's role in modulating visually-guided head movements in the absence of rotation. We note that visually-guided head movements occur only during flight. Although halteres are not necessary for head movements, the amplitude of the response is smaller in haltereless flies at higher speeds of visual motion. This modulation occurred in the absence of rotational body movements, demonstrating that the inertial forces associated with straight tethered flight are important for gaze-control behavior. The cross-modal influence of halteres on the fly's responses to fast visual motion indicates that the haltere's role in gaze stabilization extends beyond its canonical function as a sensor of angular rotations of the thorax.
- Received July 15, 2016.
- Accepted March 30, 2017.
- © 2017. Published by The Company of Biologists Ltd