Adaptive strategies of high-flying migratory hoverflies in response to wind currents

Boya Gao, Karl R. Wotton, Will L.S. Hawkes, Myles H.M. Menz, Don R. Reynolds, Bao Ping Zhai, Gao Hu, Jason W. Chapman

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10 Citations (Web of Science)


Large migrating insects, flying at high altitude, often exhibit complex behaviour. They frequently elect to fly on winds with directions quite different from the prevailing direction, and they show a degree of common orientation, both of which facilitate transport in seasonally beneficial directions. Much less is known about the migration behaviour of smaller (10-70 mg) insects. To address this issue, we used radar to examine the high-altitude flight of hoverflies (Diptera: Syrphidae), a group of day-active, medium-sized insects commonly migrating over the UK. We found that autumn migrants, which must move south, did indeed show migration timings and orientation responses that would take them in this direction, despite the unfavourability of the prevailing winds. Evidently, these hoverfly migrants must have a compass (probably a time-compensated solar mechanism), and a means of sensing the wind direction (which may be determined with sufficient accuracy at ground level, before take-off). By contrast, hoverflies arriving in the UK in spring showed weaker orientation tendencies, and did not correct for wind drift away from their seasonally adaptive direction (northwards). However, the spring migrants necessarily come from the south (on warm southerly winds), so we surmise that complex orientation behaviour may not be so crucial for the spring movements.

Original languageEnglish
Article number20200406
Number of pages1
JournalProceedings. Biological sciences
Issue number1928
Publication statusPublished - 10 Jun 2020


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