Animals detect the force of gravity with multiple sensory organs, from subcutaneous receptors at body joints to specialized sensors like the vertebrate inner ear. The halteres of flies, specialized mechanoreceptive organs derived from hindwings, are known to detect body rotations during flight, and some groups of flies also oscillate their halteres while walking. The dynamics of halteres are such that they could act as gravity detectors for flies standing on substrates, but their utility during non-flight behaviors is not known. We observed the behaviors of intact and haltere-ablated flies during walking and during perturbations in which the acceleration due to gravity suddenly changed. We found that intact halteres are necessary for flies to maintain normal walking speeds on vertical surfaces and to respond to sudden changes in gravity. Our results suggest that halteres can serve multiple sensory purposes during different behaviors, expanding their role beyond their canonical use in flight.
Kathryn Daltorio and Jessica Fox