Comparative system identification of flower tracking performance in three hawkmoth species reveals adaptations for dim light vision

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Flight control in insects is heavily dependent on vision. Thus, in dim light, the decreased reliability of visual signal detection also prompts consequences for insect flight. We have an emerging understanding of the neural mechanisms that different species employ to adapt the visual system to low light. However, much less explored are comparative analyses of how low light affects the flight behaviour of insect species, and the corresponding links between physiological adaptations and behaviour. We investigated whether the flower tracking behaviour of three hawkmoth species with different diel activity patterns revealed luminance-dependent adaptations, using a system identification approach. We found clear luminance-dependent differences in flower tracking in all three species, which were explained by a simple luminance-dependent delay model, which generalized across species. We discuss physiological and anatomical explanations for the variance in tracking responses, which could not be explained by such simple models. Differences between species could not be explained by the simple delay model. However, in several cases, they could be explained through the addition on a second model parameter, a simple scaling term, that captures the responsiveness of each species to flower movements. Thus, we demonstrate here that much of the variance in the luminance-dependent flower tracking responses of hawkmoths with different diel activity patterns can be captured by simple models of neural processing.


  • Anna L. Stöckl
  • Klara Kihlström
  • Steven Chandler
  • Simon Sponberg
External organisations
  • Georgia Institute of Technology
  • Lund University
Research areas and keywords

Subject classification (UKÄ) – MANDATORY

  • Zoology


  • Flight, Flower tracking, Hawkmoth, Motor control, System identification, Vision
Original languageEnglish
Article number20160078
JournalPhilosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Issue number1717
Publication statusPublished - 2017 Apr 5
Publication categoryResearch