Sophisticated tracking equipment reveals insects’ subtle, deft moves
courtesy of Florian Muijres
With a brain the size of a salt grain, a fruit fly can do Top Gun maneuvers in about one-fiftieth of the time it takes to blink a human eye.
That a fruit fly manages to do fighter-jet banked turns in midair contradicts some earlier ideas about how tiny insects maneuver, says Michael Dickinson of the University of Washington in Seattle. Other researchers had suggested that turning flies “use their wings almost like paddles to sort of row themselves around,” he says. Yet an elaborate fly-filming arena he and his students created reveals deft and quick banking, they report in the April 11 Science.
The Drosophila hydei fruit flies that Dickinson’s lab studies have neither a lot of mental processing power nor fancy muscles for flying. But being able to do sophisticated moves with minimal equipment only makes them more interesting.