Solving the thoracic inverse problem in the fruit fly

Arion Pons, Illy Perl, Omri Ben-Dov, Roni Maya, Tsevi Beatus*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations

Abstract

In many insect species, the thoracic exoskeletal structure plays a crucial role in enabling flight. In the dipteran indirect flight mechanism, thoracic cuticle acts as a transmission link between the flight muscles and the wings, and is thought to act as an elastic modulator: improving flight motor efficiency thorough linear or nonlinear resonance. But peering closely into the drivetrain of tiny insects is experimentally difficult, and the nature of this elastic modulation is unclear. Here, we present a new inverse-problem methodology to surmount this difficulty. In a data synthesis process, we integrate literature-reported rigid-wing aerodynamic and musculoskeletal data into a planar oscillator model for the fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster, and use this integrated data to identify several surprising properties of the fly’s thorax. We find that fruit flies likely have an energetic need for motor resonance: absolute power savings due to motor elasticity range from 0%-30% across literature-reported datasets, averaging 16%. However, in all cases, the intrinsic high effective stiffness of the active asynchronous flight muscles accounts for all elastic energy storage required by the wingbeat. The D. melanogaster flight motor should be considered as a system in which the wings are resonant with the elastic effects of the motor’s asynchronous musculature, and not with the elastic effects of the thoracic exoskeleton. We discover also that D. melanogaster wingbeat kinematics show subtle adaptions that ensure that wingbeat load requirements match muscular forcing. Together, these newly-identified properties suggest a novel conceptual model of the fruit fly’s flight motor: a structure that is resonant due to muscular elasticity, and is thereby intensely concerned with ensuring that the primary flight muscles are operating efficiently. Our inverse-problem methodology sheds new light on the complex behaviour of these tiny flight motors, and provides avenues for further studies in a range of other insect species.

Original languageAmerican English
Article number046002
JournalBioinspiration and Biomimetics
Volume18
Issue number4
DOIs
StatePublished - 5 May 2023

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2023 The Author(s). Published by IOP Publishing Ltd.

Keywords

  • elasticity
  • fruit fly
  • insect flight
  • resonance
  • thorax

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