Hawkmoths regulate flight torques with their abdomen for yaw control

Viet Le, Benjamin Cellini, Rudolf Schilder, Jean Michel Mongeau

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Many animals use body parts such as tails to stabilize posture while moving at high speed. In flying insects, leg or abdominal inertia can influence flight posture. In the hawkmoth Manduca sexta, the abdomen contributes ∼50% of the total body weight and it can therefore serve to inertially redirect flight forces. How do torques generated by the wings and abdomen interact for flight control? We studied the yaw optomotor response of M. sexta by using a torque sensor attached to their thorax. In response to yaw visual motion, the abdomen moved antiphase with the stimulus, head and total torque. By studying moths with ablated wings and a fixed abdomen, we resolved abdomen and wing torques and revealed their individual contribution to total yaw torque production. Frequency-domain analysis revealed that the abdomen torque is overall smaller than wing torque, although the abdomen torque is ∼80% of the wing torque at higher visual stimulus temporal frequency. Experimental data and modeling revealed that the wing and abdomen torque are transmitted linearly to the thorax. By modeling the thorax and abdomen as a two-link system, we show that abdomen flexion can inertially redirect the thorax to add constructively to wing steering efforts. Our work argues for considering the role of the abdomen in tethered insect flight experiments that use force/torque sensors. Taken together, the hawkmoth abdomen can regulate wing torques in free flight, which could modulate flight trajectories and increase maneuverability.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numberjeb245063
JournalJournal of Experimental Biology
Issue number9
StatePublished - May 2023

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Physiology
  • Aquatic Science
  • Animal Science and Zoology
  • Molecular Biology
  • Insect Science


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