Directional cues in Drosophila melanogaster audition: structure of acoustic flow and inter-antennal velocity differences

Erica L Morley, Thomas Steinmann, Jerome Casas, Daniel Robert

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

18 Citations (Scopus)


Drosophila melanogaster have bilateral antisymmetric antennae that receive the particle velocity component of an acoustic
stimulus. Acoustic communication is important in their courtship, which takes place in the acoustic near-field. Here, the small size
of the dipole sound source (the male wing) and the rapid attenuation rate of particle velocity produce a spatially divergent sound
field with highly variable magnitude. Also, male and female D. melanogaster are not usually stationary during courtship, resulting
in a variable directionality of the acoustic stimulus. Using both particle image velocimetry and laser Doppler vibrometry, we
examined the stimulus flow around the head of D. melanogaster to identify the actual geometry of the acoustic input to the
antennae and its directional response. We reveal that the stimulus changes in both magnitude and direction as a function of its
angle of incidence. Remarkably, directionality is substantial, with inter-antennal velocity differences of 25dB at 140Hz. For an
organism whose auditory receivers are separated by only 660±51m (mean ± s.d.), this inter-antennal velocity difference is far
greater than differences in intensity observed between tympanal ears for organisms of similar scale. Further, the mechanical
sensitivity of the antennae changes as a function of the angle of incidence of the acoustic stimulus, with peak responses along
axes at 45 and 315deg relative to the longitudinal body axis. This work indicates not only that the flies are able to detect
differential cues in signal direction, but also that the male song structure may not be the sole determinant of mating success; his
spatial positioning is also crucial to female sound reception and therefore also perhaps to her decision making.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2405-2413
JournalJournal of Experimental Biology
Publication statusPublished - 2012


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