The basalar muscle of the beetle Cotinus mutabilis is a large, fibrillar flight muscle composed of approximately 90 fibers. The paired basalars together make up approximately one-third of the mass of the power muscles of flight. Changes in twitch force with changing stimulus intensity indicated that a basalar muscle is innervated by at least five excitatory axons and at least one inhibitory axon. The muscle is an asynchronous muscle; during normal oscillatory operation there is not a 1:1 relationship between muscle action potentials and contractions. During tethered flight, the wing-stroke frequency was approximately 80 Hz, and the action potential frequency in individual motor units was approximately 20 Hz. As in other asynchronous muscles that have been examined, the basalar is characterized by high passive tension, low tetanic force and long twitch duration. Mechanical power output from the basalar muscle during imposed, sinusoidal strain was measured by the work-loop technique. Work output varied with strain amplitude, strain frequency, the muscle length upon which the strain was superimposed, muscle temperature and stimulation frequency. When other variables were at optimal values, the optimal strain for work per cycle was approximately 5%, the optimal frequency for work per cycle approximately 50 Hz and the optimal frequency for mechanical power output 60–80 Hz. Optimal strain decreased with increasing cycle frequency and increased with muscle temperature. The curve relating work output and strain was narrow. At frequencies approximating those of flight, the width of the work versus strain curve, measured at half-maximal work, was 5% of the resting muscle length. The optimal muscle length for work output was shorter than that at which twitch and tetanic tension were maximal. Optimal muscle length decreased with increasing strain. The curve relating work output and muscle length, like that for work versus strain, was narrow, with a half-width of approximately 3 % at the normal flight frequency. Increasing the frequency with which the muscle was stimulated increased power output up to a plateau, reached at approximately 100 Hz stimulation frequency (at 35 degrees C). The low lift generated by animals during tethered flight is consistent with the low frequency of muscle action potentials in motor units of the wing muscles. The optimal oscillatory frequency for work per cycle increased with muscle temperature over the temperature range tested (25–40 degrees C). When cycle frequency was held constant, the work per cycle rose to an optimum with increasing temperature and then declined. We propose that there is a temperature optimum for work output because increasing temperature increases the shortening velocity of the muscle, which increases the rate of positive work output during shortening, but also decreases the durations of the stretch activation and shortening deactivation that underlie positive work output, the effect of temperature on shortening velocity being dominant at lower temperatures and the effect of temperature on the time course of activation and deactivation being dominant at higher temperatures. The average wing-stroke frequency during free flight was 94 Hz, and the thoracic temperature was 35 degrees C. The mechanical power output at the measured values of wing-stroke frequency and thoracic temperature during flight, and at optimal muscle length and strain, averaged 127 W kg(−1)muscle, with a maximum value of 200 W kg(−1). The power output from this asynchronous flight muscle was approximately twice that measured with similar techniques from synchronous flight muscle of insects, supporting the hypothesis that asynchronous operation has been favored by evolution in flight systems of different insect groups because it allows greater power output at the high contraction frequencies of flight.

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