Fruit flies are the Top Guns of the insect world, utilizing high-speed evasive maneuvers to avoid predators much like fighter jet pilots do when enemy bogeys are on their tails. Fruit flies, according to a new study by researchers at the University of Washington, are able to utilize a series of fast banks and turns to evade potential predators and — in the case of humans — fly swatters == to make good their getaway.
The researchers at the University of Washington documented the jet-like behavior of the Drosophila hydei species of fruit flies by using three high-speed cameras. Scientists studied these results that were taken at over 7,500 frames per second.
Fruit flies, like most other flying insects, travel at a close to level height unless they feel threatened by a possible predator. When that happens, the fruit flies turn on their acrobatic and aeronautic skills. These are finely honed in creatures which have such correspondingly tiny brains.
The researchers simulated the approach of a predator by creating and using a shadow. This triggered the behavior in the fruit flies which the researchers wanted to study. The photographs clearly pointed out that the Drosophila hydei fruit fly doesn’t just change direction when a predator approaches — they also turn their bodies and fly faster. In other words, the fruit flies conduct banking maneuvers, and can change course in less than a hundredth of a second.
How did the researchers conduct the shadow experiment with the fruit flies?
Every time one of the fruit flies passed through a laser tripwire, a predator shadow was projected. The research team used extremely bright infrared lights to snap the photos, and whenever one of the fruit flies flew through the laser tripwires, the researchers got a perfect photo of the fruit flies evading their shadowy faux predators.
According to a report on NBC News, the fruit flies also showed that when they performed evasive maneuvers and executed turns they could roll on their sides by upwards of 90 degrees and fly almost completely upside down.
If scientists can figure out how the fruit flies can respond so quickly to dangerous situations, they could gain valuable neurological insights into how the brains of the fruit flies process information.The brains of the Drosophila hydei are only about the size of a grain of salt.
Medical researchers are making remarkable strides in increasing our knowledge of the human brain. However, there are many, many more secrets left for them to unravel, and more research and studies will have to be conducted just to discover how fruit flies, with their tiny brains, can perform evasive maneuvers on par with Top Gun jet pilots. Fruit flies may have comparatively tiny brains, but they can do a lot with what they have.
Written by: Douglas Cobb