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Dublin: 15 °C Friday 19 September, 2014

How much do fruit flies and fighter jets have in common? A lot, actually

And there’s a video to prove it.

A timelapse of how a fly takes evasive manoeuvres.
A timelapse of how a fly takes evasive manoeuvres.
Image: University of Washington

A NEW STUDY has found that fruit flies respond to predators much like fighter jets.

Researchers at the University of Washington used an array of hi-tech ultra-fast cameras to track how the flies react to danger.

The researchers found that their understanding of how the flies move and the reality were totally different.

“Although they have been described as swimming through the air, tiny flies actually roll their bodies just like aircraft in a banked turn to manoeuvre away from impending threats,” said Michael Dickinson, UW professor of biology and co-author of a paper on the findings in the new issue of the journal Science.

“We discovered that fruit flies alter course in less than one one-hundredth of a second, 50 times faster than we blink our eyes, and which is faster than we ever imagined.”


In the midst of a banked turn, the flies can roll on their sides 90 degrees or more, almost flying upside down at times.

The fruit fly, which is around the size of a sesame seed, can carry out the movements based on an extremely fast brain which, despite being the size of a grain of salt, has as much function as that of a mouse.

“How can such a small brain generate so many remarkable behaviors? A fly with a brain the size of a salt grain has the behavioral repertoire nearly as complex as a much larger animal such as a mouse. That’s a super interesting problem from an engineering perspective,” Dickinson said.

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