Why flies are so hard to swat

Why flies are so hard to swat June 24, 2015

Scientists have figured out why flies are so hard to swat.  It has to do with the “quick-fire intelligence and good planning” of the fly, “the speed and complexity of the fly’s brain,” which processes information so fast that within 100 milliseconds it “plans” the direction it needs to go and launches its body accordingly.

Intelligence!  Planning!  A fly’s brain!

From BBC NEWS | Science/Nature | Fly’s brain ‘senses swat threat’:

Researchers in the US say that they have solved the mystery of why flies are so hard to swat.

They think the fly’s ability to dodge being hit is due to its fast acting brain and an ability to plan ahead.

High speed, high resolution video recordings revealed the insects quickly work out where a threat is coming from and prepare an escape route.

The research suggests that the best way of swatting a fly is to creep up slowly and aim ahead of its location. . . .

Over the years there have been different theories put forward to explain the fly’s uncanny ability to outwit our whacking endeavours.

But scientists at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) say it is down to quick-fire intelligence and good planning.

They filmed a series of experiments with fruit flies and a looming swatter.

The researchers discovered that long before the fly leaps it calculates the location of the threat and comes up with an escape plan.

Flies put their bodies into pre-flight mode very rapidly – Within 100 milliseconds of spotting the swatter they can position their centre of mass in the right way so that a simple extension of their legs propels them away from any threat.

The scientists found that flies were able to put themselves into this rapid reaction position no matter whether they were grooming, feeding or simply walking.

According to Caltech’s Professor Michael Dickinson this illustrates the speed and complexity of the fly’s brain.

“We’ve found that when the fly makes planning movements prior to take-off, it takes into account its body position at the time it first sees the threat,” he explained.

“Our experiments showed that the fly somehow ‘knows’ whether it needs to make large or small postural changes.

“This means the fly must integrate visual information from its eyes which tell it where the threat is approaching from, with mechano-sensory information from its legs, which tells it how to move to reach the proper pre-flight pose.”

HT:  Ken Nelson

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