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.
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"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: