Flies Use Fighter Pilot Maneuver to Avoid Swatting
James O'Hanlon, Macquarie University
Animals and insects that resemble flowers deceive in a unique and powerful way, since who could resist a beautiful flower?
In this case, the "orchid" is actually a predatory insect -- the orchid mantis. Researcher James O'Hanlon of Macquarie University and colleagues recently studied the unusual insects in Malaysia.
"Their bright floral colors and petal-shaped legs create a tantalizing lure for insects," O'Hanlon told Discovery News, adding that they attract flying insect pollinators more than actual flowers in the region do. "So it seems that orchid mantises not only look like flowers, but they may also even beat flowers at their own game as they deceptively attract their unsuspecting prey."
The star-nosed mole is in the record books for a few different reasons. First, it is the world's fastest eating mammal. Second, its nose looks like a coral-colored flower, allowing the mole to poke out of the ground as though it were a plant.
Finally, the flower or "star" on its nose has the highest density of nerve endings known in any mammalian skin, according to biologist Diana Bautista of the University of California at Berkeley and colleagues. By studying the nose, they are hoping to identify genes that may mediate touch and pain, leading to better treatments for chronic pain conditions.
Fred Hsu, Wikimedia Commons
Flower hat jellyfish, native to the West Pacific off the coast of southern Japan, sport translucent, pinstriped bells that make up this marine animal's "flower."
The tentacles below can sting, and are used to catch small fish. Humans who have the misfortune of encountering the flower hat jellyfish can also be stung, and often suffer a nasty rash as a result.
Raimond Spekking, Wikimedia Commons
The term anthozoa comes from the Greek words for flower and animals. These flower animals are so-called because their earliest stage of growth takes on a floral appearance.
Relatives of anthozoa were in existence possibly as early as 570 million years ago, putting those ancestors well ahead of the dinosaurs. They are among the oldest known types of animals on Earth.
Yuvalif, Wikimedia Commons
The devil's flower mantis has three distinct looks. It can, as this image shows, appear as its true insect self. Here, one was snapped marching on a car tire. But among plants, the other two looks become more evident.
Imagine this mantis sitting on a green leaf. It would seem to be an extension of that leaf, or just blend in with the green. When the insect lifts its forelegs, however, bright colors are revealed. In this pose, it resembles an orchid. To other devil's flower mantises, the pose signals a threat, making the aggressor look large and mean.
The High Fin Sperm Whale, Wikimedia Commons
"Lionfish" refers to an entire genus of venomous marine fish. They sometimes resemble floating tropical flowers, but the appendages are actually spiky and full of venom.
Flowers display colors, in part, to attract pollinators. Color for lionfish is meant to do just the opposite: repel others. Like a bright red stop sign, the color is meant to gain attention. The different colors tell would-be predators that the lionfish can be dangerous.
Darius Bau, Wikimedia Commons
When wrapped around a twig, the pale tussock caterpillar could easily be mistaken for an unusual bright yellow-hued flower. The coloration, as for the lionfish, warns others not to eat it.
The caterpillar's color and appearance also functions as a flower disguise. Once the caterpillar turns into a moth, all of that psychedelic color fades away, leaving behind beige and brown tones.
BerndH, Wikimedia Commons
Animals and insects aren't the only ones that fool others with their looks. Flowers also sometimes take on the appearance of animals.
The bird of paradise is a classic example. But nature seems to be teasing us with the monkey orchid. From a distance, this flower looks just like a lavender and white orchid. Up close, however, the flower resembles a monkey, complete with a head, long arms and a tail.
Orchi, Wikimedia Commons
With Halloween around the corner, special mention goes to the orchid Dracula gigas. While it may not look like Dracula, it does take on human-like features.
From above, as seen in this photo, it appears to have eyes, a nose, a mouth and quite a dramatic hairdo.
When startled by a predator — including a swatter-wielding person — tiny fruit flies respond like fighter pilots, employing screaming-fast banked turns to evade attacks, according to a new study.
The slick move was evident in the study, published in the latest issue of Science, since researchers used an array of high-speed video cameras operating at 7,500 frames a second to capture the wing and body motion of flies after they encountered a looming image of an approaching predator.
“Although they have been described as swimming through the air, tiny flies actually roll their bodies just like aircraft in a banked turn to maneuver away from impending threats,” co-author Michael Dickinson, a University of Washington professor of biology, said in a press release.
He added, “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, according to co-author Florian Muijres.
“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,” Muijres explained.
The fruit flies are about the size of a sesame seed, so they are not exactly known for impressive brain size. But consider that big bodies need larger brains to control everything. A small brain simply has a smaller body to control. It doesn’t necessarily mean that the species is a dummy.
Houseflies also plot and plan clever escapes. You can see this at work in slow motion in the following video:
“The brain of the (fruit) fly performs a very sophisticated calculation, in a very short amount of time, to determine where the danger lies and exactly how to bank for the best escape, doing something different if the threat is to the side, straight ahead or behind,” Dickinson said.
He continued, “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.”
In the future, he and his team would like to investigate how the fly’s brain and muscles control the remarkably fast and accurate evasive maneuvers.
(Image: F. Muijres and F. van Breugel, University of Washington)