1. 1.

    Mechanical work output was determined for an indirect flight muscle, the first dorsoventral, of the tobacco hawkmoth Manduca sexta. Work output per cycle was calculated from the area of force-position loops obtained during phasic electrical stimulation (1 stimulus cycle−1) and imposed sinusoidal length change. There was an optimal stimulus phase and an optimal length change (strain) that maximized work output (loop area) at constant cycle frequency and temperature.

  2. 2.

    When cycle frequency was increased at constant temperature, work output first increased and then decreased. It was always possible to find a frequency that maximized work output. There also always existed a higher frequency (termed the ‘optimal’ frequency in this paper) that maximized the mechanical power output, which is the product of the cycle frequency (s−1) and the work per cycle (J).

  3. 3.

    As temperature increased from 20 to 40°C, the mean maximum power output increased from about 20 to about 90 W kg−1 of muscle (Q10=2.09). There was a corresponding increase in optimal frequency from 12.7 to 28.3 Hz, in the work per cycle at optimal frequency from 1.6 to 3.2Jkg−1 muscle and in mean optimal strain from 5.9 to 7.9%.

  4. 4.

    Two electrical stimuli per cycle cannot increase power output at flight frequencies, but if frequency is reduced then power output can be increased with multiple stimulation.

  5. 5.

    Comparison of mechanical power output from muscle and published values of energy expenditure during free hovering flight of Manduca suggests that mechanical efficiency is about 10%.

  6. 6.

    In the tobacco hawkmoth there is a good correspondence between, on the one hand, the conditions of temperature (35–40°C) and cycle frequency (28–32 Hz) that produce maximal mechanical power output in the muscle preparation and, on the other hand, the thoracic temperature (35–42°C) and wing beat frequency (24–32 Hz) observed during hovering flight.

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