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Role of side-slip flight in target pursuit: blue-tailed damselflies (Ischnura elegans) avoid body rotation while approaching a moving perch

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Abstract

Visually guided flight control requires processing changes in the visual panorama (optic-flow) resulting from self-movement relative to stationary objects, as well as from moving objects passing through the field of view. We studied the ability of the blue-tailed damselfly, Ischnura elegans, to successfully land on a perch moving unpredictably. We tracked the insects landing on a vertical pole moved linearly 6 cm back and forth with sinusoidal changes in velocity. When the moving perch changed direction at frequencies higher than 1 Hz, the damselflies engaged in manoeuvres that typically involved sideways flight, with minimal changes in body orientation relative to the stationary environment. We show that these flight manoeuvres attempted to fix the target in the centre of the field of view when flying in any direction while keeping body rotation changes about the yaw axis to the minimum. We propose that this pursuit strategy allows the insect to obtain reliable information on self and target motion relative to the stationary environment from the translational optic-flow, while minimizing interference from the rotational optic-flow. The ability of damselflies to fly in any direction, irrespective of body orientation, underlines the superb flight control of these aerial predators.

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Acknowledgements

We thank Zohar Yanai, Liron Goren and Michael Blecher for assistance with identifying damselflies. We thank Frida Matana Ben-Ami, Yoav Gothilf and Maor Knafo for providing live food for feeding the damselflies and Shira Holand for aiding us with the damselflies’ figures. We also thank the staff of the Meier I. Segals Garden for Zoological Research for logistical support. All experiments with animals were carried out in accord with the laws of Israel, and the guidelines outlined by Tel Aviv University.

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Correspondence to Gal Ribak.

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Supplementary Table 1 Number of trials for each individual in each experiment (TIF 921 KB)

Supplementary Figure 1 Frequency of occurrence of altitude change during the last 300 ms of the approach in the various experiments. Positive and negative altitude change values indicate on an approach from below and from above the final landing point, respectively (TIF 660 KB)

Supplementary Film 1 Stationary experiment. Straight flight towards the target. The trajectory an orientation of the insect is depicted in 3D in Fig. 3a of the main text (WMV 8049 KB)

Supplementary Film 1 Stationary experiment. Straight flight towards the target. The trajectory an orientation of the insect is depicted in 3D in Fig. 3a of the main text (WMV 8049 KB)

Supplementary Film 2 Stationary experiment. The damselfly flies sideways without altering its body orientation towards the stationary target. The trajectory an orientation of the insect is depicted in 3D in Fig. 3b of the main text (WMV 2853 KB)

Supplementary Film 2 Stationary experiment. The damselfly flies sideways without altering its body orientation towards the stationary target. The trajectory an orientation of the insect is depicted in 3D in Fig. 3b of the main text (WMV 2853 KB)

Supplementary Film 3 Experiment 2. The damselfly flies sideways while minimizing body orientation changes. The trajectory an orientation of the insect is depicted in 3D in Fig. 3c of the main text (WMV 11260 KB)

Supplementary Film 3 Experiment 2. The damselfly flies sideways while minimizing body orientation changes. The trajectory an orientation of the insect is depicted in 3D in Fig. 3c of the main text (WMV 11260 KB)

Supplementary Film 4 A damselfly landing on the moving perch moving at 2 Hz shown at actual speed (WMV 2853 KB)

Supplementary Film 4 A damselfly landing on the moving perch moving at 2 Hz shown at actual speed (WMV 2853 KB)

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Kassner, Z., Ribak, G. Role of side-slip flight in target pursuit: blue-tailed damselflies (Ischnura elegans) avoid body rotation while approaching a moving perch. J Comp Physiol A 204, 561–577 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00359-018-1261-5

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Keywords

  • Optic-flow
  • Interception
  • Tracking
  • Flight control
  • Zygoptera