Complete neuroanatomy of dragonfly wings suggests direct sensing of aeroelastic deformations

September 12, 2021

Joseph Fabian (1,2), Igor Siwanowicz (3), Myriam Uhrhan (1), Masateru Maeda (4), Richard J Bomphrey (4), Huai-Ti Lin (1)
bioRxiv, September 2021. DOI: 10.1101/2021.04.11.439336


Can mechanosensors in animal wings allow reconstruction of the wing aeroelastic states? Little is known about how flying animals utilize wing mechanosensation to monitor the dynamic state of their highly deformable wings. Odonata, dragonflies and damselflies, are a basal lineage of flying insects with excellent flight performance, and their wing mechanics have been studied extensively. Here, we present a comprehensive map of the wing sensory system for two Odonata species, including both the external sensor morphologies and internal neuroanatomy. We identified eight morphological classes of sensors; most were mechanosensors innervated by a single neuron. Their innervation patterns and morphologies minimize axon length and allow morphological latency compensation. We further mapped the major veins of another 13 Odonata species across 10 families and identified consistent sensor distribution patterns, with sensor count scaling with wing length. Finally, we constructed a high-fidelity finite element model of a dragonfly wing for structural analysis. Our dynamic loading simulations revealed features of the strain fields that wing sensor arrays could detect to encode different wing deformation states. Taken together, this work marks the first step toward an integrated understanding of fly-by-feel control in animal flight.

How Our Software Was Used

Dragonfly was used for 3D reconstruction.

Author Affiliation

(1) Imperial College London.
(2) The University of Adelaide.
(3) HHMI Janelia Research Campus.
(4)Royal Veterinary College.