Antenna (biology)

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Large antennae on a longhorn beetle Rosalia alpina side.JPG
Large antennae on a longhorn beetle

Antennae (singular: antenna), sometimes referred to as "feelers", are paired appendages used for sensing in arthropods.


Antennae are connected to the first one or two segments of the arthropod head. They vary widely in form but are always made of one or more jointed segments. While they are typically sensory organs, the exact nature of what they sense and how they sense it is not the same in all groups. Functions may variously include sensing touch, air motion, heat, vibration (sound), and especially smell or taste. [1] [2] Antennae are sometimes modified for other purposes, such as mating, brooding, swimming, and even anchoring the arthropod to a substrate. [2] Larval arthropods have antennae that differ from those of the adult. Many crustaceans, for example, have free-swimming larvae that use their antennae for swimming. Antennae can also locate other group members if the insect lives in a group, like the ant. The common ancestor of all arthropods likely had one pair of uniramous (unbranched) antenna-like structures, followed by one or more pairs of biramous (having two major branches) leg-like structures, as seen in some modern crustaceans and fossil trilobites. [3] Except for the chelicerates and proturans, which have none, all non-crustacean arthropods have a single pair of antennae. [4]


Cutaway diagram of a barnacle, with antennae highlighted by arrow Barnacle anatomy - antenna highlighted.svg
Cutaway diagram of a barnacle, with antennae highlighted by arrow

Crustaceans bear two pairs of antennae. The pair attached to the first segment of the head are called primary antennae or antennules. This pair is generally uniramous, but is biramous in crabs and lobsters and remipedes. The pair attached to the second segment are called secondary antennae or simply antennae. The second antennae are plesiomorphically biramous, but many species later evolved uniramous pairs. [2] The second antennae may be significantly reduced (e.g. remipedes), apparently absent (e.g. barnacles), or modified to such an extent that they no longer resemble antennae (e.g. spiny lobsters and slipper lobsters).[ citation needed ]

The subdivisions of crustacean antennae have many names, including flagellomeres (a shared term with insects), annuli, articles, and segments. The terminal ends of crustacean antennae have two major categorizations: segmented and flagellate. An antenna is considered segmented if each of the annuli is separate from those around it and has individual muscle attachments. Flagellate antennae, on the other hand, have muscle attachments only around the base, acting as a hinge for the flagellum—a flexible string of annuli with no muscle attachment. [5]

There are several notable non-sensory uses of antennae in crustaceans. Many crustaceans have a mobile larval stage called a nauplius, which is characterized by its use of antennae for swimming. Barnacles, a highly modified crustacean, use their antennae to attach to rocks and other surfaces. [2]

A spiny lobster, showing the enlarged second antennae
Scyllarides latus.jpg
The large flattened plates in front of the eyes of a slipper lobster are the modified second antennae.
The crab Cancer pagurus , showing its reduced antennae
Caribbean hermit crab Antennule.JPG
Antennules of the Caribbean hermit crab
Shrimp nauplius.jpg
The nauplius larvae of a shrimp with antennae used for swimming
Examples of crustacean antennae
Primary antennae
Crustacean antenna - Copepoda Cyclops 1st-antenna.svg Crustacean antenna - Isopoda Austroarcturus africanus 1st-antenna.svg Crustacean antenna - Amphipoda Gammarus locusta 1st-antenna.svg Crustacean antenna - Decapoda Paguroidea 1st-antenna.svg Crustacean antenna - Decapoda Megalopa 1st-antenna.svg Crustacean antenna - Remipedia Speleonectes tanumekes 1st-antenna.svg Crustacean antenna - Thecostraca Cirrepedia 1st-antenna.svg
Secondary antennae
Crustacean antenna - Copepoda Cyclops 2nd-antenna.svg Crustacean antenna - Isopoda Austroarcturus africanus 2nd-antenna.svg Crustacean antenna - Amphipoda Gammarus locusta 2nd-antenna.svg Crustacean antenna - Decapoda Paguroidea 2nd-antenna.svg Crustacean antenna - Decapoda Megalopa 2nd-antenna.svg Crustacean antenna - Remipedia Speleonectes tanumekes 2nd-antenna.svg


Terms used to describe shapes of insect antennae Insect antennae.svg
Terms used to describe shapes of insect antennae
Antennal shape in the Lepidoptera from C. T. Bingham (1905) Antennae ctb.png
Antennal shape in the Lepidoptera from C. T. Bingham (1905)

Insects evolved from prehistoric crustaceans, and they have secondary antennae like crustaceans, but not primary antennae. Antennae are the primary olfactory sensors of insects [6] and are accordingly well-equipped with a wide variety of sensilla (singular: sensillum). Paired, mobile, and segmented, they are located between the eyes on the forehead. Embryologically, they represent the appendages of the second head segment. [7]

All insects have antennae, however they may be greatly reduced in the larval forms. Amongst the non-insect classes of the Hexapoda, both Collembola and Diplura have antenna, but Protura do not. [8]

Antennal fibrillae play an important role in Culex pipiens mating practices. The erection of these fibrillae is considered to be the first stage in reproduction. These fibrillae serve different functions across the sexes. As antennal fibrillae are used by female C. pipiens to locate hosts to feed on, male C. pipiens utilize them to locate female mates.[ citation needed ]


Electron micrograph of antenna surface detail of a wasp (Vespula vulgaris) Vespula vulgaris SEM Antenna 03.jpg
Electron micrograph of antenna surface detail of a wasp (Vespula vulgaris)

The three basic segments of the typical insect antenna are the scape or scapus (base), the pedicel or pedicellus (stem), and finally the flagellum, which often comprises many units known as flagellomeres. [9] The pedicel (the second segment) contains the Johnston's organ which is a collection of sensory cells.[ citation needed ]

The scape is mounted in a socket in a more or less ring-shaped sclerotised region called the torulus, often a raised portion of the insect's head capsule. The socket is closed off by the membrane into which the base of the scape is set. However, the antenna does not hang free on the membrane, but pivots on a rigidly sprung projection from the rim of the torulus. That projection on which the antenna pivots is called the antennifer. The whole structure enables the insect to move the antenna as a whole by applying internal muscles connected to the scape. The pedicel is flexibly connected to the distal end of the scape and its movements in turn can be controlled by muscular connections between the scape and pedicel. The number of flagellomeres can vary greatly between insect species, and often is of diagnostic importance.[ citation needed ]

True flagellomeres are connected by membranous linkage that permits movement, though the flagellum of "true" insects does not have any intrinsic muscles. Some other Arthropoda do however have intrinsic muscles throughout the flagellum. Such groups include the Symphyla, Collembola and Diplura. In many true insects, especially the more primitive groups such as Thysanura and Blattodea, the flagellum partly or entirely consists of a flexibly connected string of small ring-shaped annuli. The annuli are not true flagellomeres, and in a given insect species the number of annuli generally is not as consistent as the number of flagellomeres in most species. [9]

In many beetles and in the chalcidoid wasps, the apical flagellomeres form a club shape, and the collective term for the segments between the club and the antennal base is the funicle; traditionally in describing beetle anatomy, the term "funicle" refers to the segments between the club and the scape. However, traditionally in working on wasps the funicle is taken to comprise the segments between the club and the pedicel. [9]

Quite commonly the funicle beyond the pedicel is quite complex in Endopterygota such as beetles, moths and Hymenoptera, and one common adaptation is the ability to fold the antenna in the middle, at the joint between the pedicel and the flagellum. This gives an effect like a "knee bend", and such an antenna is said to be geniculate. Geniculate antennae are common in the Coleoptera and Hymenoptera. They are important for insects like ants that follow scent trails, for bees and wasps that need to "sniff" the flowers that they visit, and for beetles such as Scarabaeidae and Curculionidae that need to fold their antennae away when they self-protectively fold up all their limbs in defensive attitudes.[ citation needed ]

Because the funicle is without intrinsic muscles, it generally must move as a unit, in spite of being articulated. However, some funicles are complex and very mobile. For example, the Scarabaeidae have lamellate antennae that can be folded tightly for safety or spread openly for detecting odours or pheromones. The insect manages such actions by changes in blood pressure, by which it exploits elasticity in walls and membranes in the funicles, which are in effect erectile. [10]

In the groups with more uniform antennae (for example: millipedes), all segments are called antennomeres. Some groups have a simple or variously modified apical or subapical bristle called an arista (this may be especially well-developed in various Diptera). [11]


Olfactory receptors (scales and holes) on the antenna of the butterfly Aglais io, electron micrograph Tykadlo.jpg
Olfactory receptors (scales and holes) on the antenna of the butterfly Aglais io , electron micrograph

Olfactory receptors on the antennae bind to free-floating molecules, such as water vapour, and odours including pheromones. The neurons that possess these receptors signal this binding by sending action potentials down their axons to the antennal lobe in the brain. From there, neurons in the antennal lobes connect to mushroom bodies that identify the odour. The sum of the electrical potentials of the antennae to a given odour can be measured using an electroantennogram. [12]

In the monarch butterfly, antennae are necessary for proper time-compensated solar compass orientation during migration. Antennal clocks exist in monarchs, and they are likely to provide the primary timing mechanism for sun compass orientation. [13]

In the African cotton leafworm, antennae have an important function in signaling courtship. Specifically, antennae are required for males to answer the female mating call. Although females do not require antennae for mating, a mating that resulted from a female without antennae was abnormal. [14]

In the diamondback moth, antennae serve to gather information about a host plant's taste and odor. After the desired taste and odor has been identified, the female moth will deposit her eggs onto the plant. [15] Giant swallowtail butterflies also rely on antenna sensitivity to volatile compounds to identify host plants. It was found that females are actually more responsive with their antenna sensing, most likely because they are responsible for oviposition on the correct plant. [16]

In the crepuscular hawk moth ( Manduca sexta ), antennae aid in flight stabilization. Similar to halteres in Dipteran insects, the antennae transmit coriolis forces through the Johnston's organ that can then be used for corrective behavior. A series of low-light, flight stability studies in which moths with flagellae amputated near the pedicel showed significantly decreased flight stability over those with intact antennae. [17] To determine whether there may be other antennal sensory inputs, a second group of moths had their antennae amputated and then re-attached, before being tested in the same stability study. These moths showed slightly decreased performance from intact moths, indicating there are possibly other sensory inputs used in flight stabilization. Re-amputation of the antennae caused a drastic decrease in flight stability to match that of the first amputated group.[ citation needed ]

Related Research Articles


Uniramia is a group within the arthropods. In the past this group included the Onychophora, which are now considered a separate category. The group is currently used in a narrower sense.


Dendrobranchiata is a suborder of decapods, commonly known as prawns. There are 540 extant species in seven families, and a fossil record extending back to the Devonian. They differ from related animals, such as Caridea and Stenopodidea, by the branching form of the gills and by the fact that they do not brood their eggs, but release them directly into the water. They may reach a length of over 330 millimetres (13 in) and a mass of 450 grams (1.0 lb), and are widely fished and farmed for human consumption.

Malacostraca Largest class of crustaceans

Malacostraca is the largest of the six classes of crustaceans, containing about 40,000 living species, divided among 16 orders. Its members, the malacostracans, display a great diversity of body forms and include crabs, lobsters, crayfish, shrimp, krill, woodlice, amphipods, mantis shrimp and many other, less familiar animals. They are abundant in all marine environments and have colonised freshwater and terrestrial habitats. They are segmented animals, united by a common body plan comprising 20 body segments, and divided into a head, thorax, and abdomen.

Appendage External body part or natural prolongation, that protrudes from an organisms body

An appendage is an external body part, or natural prolongation, that protrudes from an organism's body.

Johnston's organ is a collection of sensory cells found in the pedicel of the antennae in the class Insecta. Johnston's organ detects motion in the flagellum. It consists of scolopidia arrayed in a bowl shape, each of which contains a mechanosensory chordotonal neuron. The number of scolopidia varies between species. In homopterans, the Johnston's organs contain 25 - 79 scolopidia. The presence of Johnston's organ is a defining characteristic which separates the class Insecta from the other hexapods belonging to the group Entognatha. Johnston's organ was named after the physician Christopher Johnston, father of the physician and Assyriologist Christopher Johnston.

Supraesophageal ganglion

The supraesophageal ganglion is the first part of the arthropod and (especially) insect central nervous system. It receives and processes information from the first, second, and third metameres. The supraesophageal ganglion lies dorsal to the esophagus and consists of three parts, each a pair of ganglia that may be more or less pronounced, reduced, or fused depending on the genus:

The arthropod leg is a form of jointed appendage of arthropods, usually used for walking. Many of the terms used for arthropod leg segments are of Latin origin, and may be confused with terms for bones: coxa, trochanter, femur, tibia, tarsus, ischium, metatarsus, carpus, dactylus, patella.

Glossary of entomology terms List of definitions of terms and concepts commonly used in the study of entomology

This glossary of entomology describes terms used in the formal study of insect species by entomologists.

Mandible (arthropod mouthpart) Pair of mouthparts used either for biting or cutting and holding food

The mandible of an arthropod is a pair of mouthparts used either for biting or cutting and holding food. Mandibles are often simply referred to as jaws. Mandibles are present in the extant subphyla Myriapoda, Crustacea and Hexapoda. These groups make up the clade Mandibulata, which is currently believed to be the sister group to the rest of arthropods, the clade Arachnomorpha.

Arthropod head problem Uncertainty regarding the evolutionary relationship of the segmental composition of the head in various arthropod groups

The (pan)arthropod head problem is a long-standing zoological dispute concerning the segmental composition of the heads of the various arthropod groups, and how they are evolutionarily related to each other. While the dispute has historically centered on the exact make-up of the insect head, it has been widened to include other living arthropods such as the crustaceans and chelicerates; and fossil forms, such as the many arthropods known from exceptionally preserved Cambrian faunas. While the topic has classically been based on insect embryology, in recent years a great deal of developmental molecular data has become available. Dozens of more or less distinct solutions to the problem, dating back to at least 1897, have been published, including several in the 2000s.

<i>Culex pipiens</i>

Culex pipiens, commonly referred to as the common house mosquito, is a species of mosquito. House mosquitoes are some of the most common mosquitoes in the United States. More specifically, Culex pipiens is considered as the northern house mosquito, as it is the most common mosquito to the northern regions of the US. North of the 39th parallel north in the US, only C. pipiens are present, whereas south of the 36th parallel north, only C. quinquefasciatus are present. Additionally, they can be found in both urban and suburban temperate and tropical regions across the world.

Arthropod Phylum of invertebrates with jointed exoskeletons

An arthropod is an invertebrate animal having an exoskeleton, a segmented body, and paired jointed appendages. Arthropods form the phylum Euarthropoda, which includes insects, arachnids, myriapods, and crustaceans. The term Arthropoda as originally proposed refers to a proposed grouping of Euarthropods and the phylum Onychophora.

Insect morphology

Insect morphology is the study and description of the physical form of insects. The terminology used to describe insects is similar to that used for other arthropods due to their shared evolutionary history. Three physical features separate insects from other arthropods: they have a body divided into three regions, have three pairs of legs, and mouthparts located outside of the head capsule. It is this position of the mouthparts which divides them from their closest relatives, the non-insect hexapods, which includes Protura, Diplura, and Collembola.

Labrum (arthropod mouthpart)

The labrum is a flap-like structure that lies immediately in front of the mouth in almost all extant Euarthropoda. The most conspicuous exceptions are the Pycnogonida, which probably are chelicerate-relatives. In entomology, the labrum amounts to the "upper lip" of an insect mouth, the corresponding "lower lip" being the labium.

Hexapoda Subphylum of arthropods

The subphylum Hexapoda constitutes the largest number of species of arthropods and includes the insects as well as three much smaller groups of wingless arthropods: Collembola, Protura, and Diplura. The Collembola are very abundant in terrestrial environments. Hexapods are named for their most distinctive feature: a consolidated thorax with three pairs of legs. Most other arthropods have more than three pairs of legs.

Crustacean Subphylum of arthropods

Crustaceans form a large, diverse arthropod taxon which includes such animals as crabs, lobsters, crayfish, shrimps, prawns, krill, woodlice, and barnacles. The crustacean group can be treated as a subphylum under the clade Mandibulata; because of recent molecular studies it is now well accepted that the crustacean group is paraphyletic, and comprises all animals in the clade Pancrustacea other than hexapods. Some crustaceans are more closely related to insects and the other hexapods than they are to certain other crustaceans.

<i>Zigrasimecia</i> Extinct genus of ants

Zigrasimecia is an extinct genus of ants which existed in the Cretaceous period approximately 98 million years ago. The first specimens were collected from Burmese amber in Kachin State, 100 kilometres (62 mi) west of Myitkyina town in Myanmar. In 2013, palaeoentomologists Phillip Barden and David Grimaldi published a paper describing and naming Zigrasimecia tonsora. They described a dealate female with unusual features, notably the highly specialized mandibles. Other features include large ocelli, short scapes, 12 antennomeres, small eyes, and a clypeal margin that has a row of peg-like denticles. The genus Zigrasimecia was originally incertae sedis within Formicidae until a second species, Zigrasimecia ferox, was described in 2014, confirming its placement in the subfamily Sphecomyrminae.

Paraulax queulensis is a species of gall wasp. Biology of Paraulax species is unknown but given they are associated with Nothofagus forests their biology is probably associated with the pteromalid gall community. This species is named after the place where it was first collected, Los Queules National Reserve. P. queulensis closely resembles P. perplexa, bearing common traits such as colour, habitus and several morphological characters. P. queulensis differs by having a more elongate body, which in the female is 4 times longer than it is high; its mesosoma is 1.6 times longer than high, while its metasoma is 1.9 times longer than high. The mesosoma is more dorsoventrally depressed. Its pronotum s 1.5 times longer laterally than high. It possesses longitudinal costulae running from the lateral margin of its pronotal plate to its lateral surface. Its scutellar foveae is discernible even when shallow. The antenna also differs: the pedicel of the female antenna is 1.4 times longer than wide.

Insect olfaction

Insect olfaction refers to the function of chemical receptors that enable insects to detect and identify volatile compounds for foraging, predator avoidance, finding mating partners and locating oviposition habitats. Thus, it is the most important sensation for insects. Most important insect behaviors must be timed perfectly which is dependent on what they smell and when they smell it. For example, olfaction is essential for hunting in many species of wasps, including Polybia sericea.

<i>Pepsis grossa</i>

Pepsis grossa is a very large species of pepsine spider wasp from the southern part of North America, south to northern South America. It preys on tarantula spiders, giving rise to the name tarantula hawk for the wasps in the genus Pepsis and the related Hemipepsis. Only the females hunt, so only they are capable of delivering a sting, which is considered the second most painful of any insect sting; scoring 4.0 on the Schmidt sting pain index compared to the bullet ant's 4.0+. It is the state insect of New Mexico. The colour morphs are the xanthic orange-winged form and the melanic black winged form. In northern South America, a third form, known as "lygamorphic", has a dark base to the wings which have dark amber median patches and a pale tip.


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