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Fruit Flies Evade Attacks Like Fighter Jets

Apr 11, 2014 08:24 AM EDT

A new research explains why it is hard to swat a fruit fly. Scientists have found that these flies evade attacks by making sharp banking manoeuvres, just like a fighter jet.

A team of scientists at the University of Washington used high-speed video cameras operating at 7,500 per second to capture how these flies manage to escape a predator.

The fruit flies used in the study were Drosophila hydei. These flies are small; about the size of a sesame seed.

The team found that the brain of these flies makes sophisticated calculations to bank at the right time to escape danger.

According to Michael Dickinson, UW professor of biology and co-author the study, the time taken by these tiny critters to alter flight course is "less than one one-hundredth of a second, 50 times faster than we blink our eyes, and which is faster than we ever imagined."

What's more is that during this critical banking manoeuvre, these flies can turn on their sides 90 degrees or more, said Florian Muijres, a UW postdoctoral researcher and lead author of the paper.

"These flies normally flap their wings 200 times a second and, in almost a single wing beat, the animal can reorient its body to generate a force away from the threatening stimulus and then continues to accelerate," he added, according to a news release.

Test Flights with Flies

Researchers placed 40 to 50 fruit flies in a small cylindrical arena. Three high-speed cameras captured the flies' flight. To create the illusion that they are being attacked, researchers used the image of a predator.

The team found that the flies adopted quick strategies to escape the predator. They rolled their bodies to move away from the perceived danger.

"They generate a rather precise banked turn, just like an aircraft pilot would, to roll the body and generate a force to take them away from the threat," said Dickinson, lead author of the study, according to Reuters reported.

In the next part of the study, researchers will be looking at how the flies' brain and muscles co-ordinate to escape.

Their study is published in the journal Science and was supported by Paul G. Allen Family Foundation, the Air Force Office of Scientific Research, the Army Research Office, the Swedish Research Council and the Royal Physiographical Society in Lund.

It's not only the engineers and biologists who are fascinated by fruit flies' flying abilities. Neurologists are also surprised by the ultra-fast decision making abilities of these tiny creatures.

See the video, here.

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