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Hawkmoths use wingstroke-to-wingstroke frequency modulation for aerial recovery to vortex ring perturbations


Gau, Jeff et al. (2021), Hawkmoths use wingstroke-to-wingstroke frequency modulation for aerial recovery to vortex ring perturbations, Dryad, Dataset,


Centimetre-scale fliers must contend with the high power requirements of flapping flight. Insects have elastic elements in their thoraxes which may reduce the inertial costs of their flapping wings. Matching wingbeat frequency to a mechanical resonance can be energetically favourable, but also poses control challenges. Many insects use frequency modulation on long timescales, but wingstroke-to-wingstroke modulation of wingbeat frequencies in a resonant spring-wing system is potentially costly because muscles must work against the elastic flight system. Nonetheless, rapid frequency and amplitude modulation may be a useful control modality. The hawkmoth Manduca sexta has an elastic thorax capable of storing and returning significant energy. However, its nervous system also has the potential to modulate the driving frequency of flapping because its flight muscles are synchronous. We tested whether hovering hawkmoths rapidly alter frequency during perturbations with vortex rings. We observed both frequency modulation (32% around mean) and amplitude modulation (37%) occurring over several wingstrokes. Instantaneous phase analysis of wing kinematics revealed that more than 85% of perturbation responses required active changes in neurogenic driving frequency. Unlike their robotic counterparts that abdicate frequency modulation for energy efficiency, synchronous insects use wingstroke-to-wingstroke frequency modulation despite the power demands required for deviating from resonance.


This dataset contains raw kinematic traces from freely flying Manduca sexta following a vortex perturbation recorded at 2000 fps.

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National Science Foundation, Award: 1554790

National Science Foundation, Award: 1205878