Gotcha! How to swat a fly, and know that it will die
The enduring mystery of why it is so difficult to swat a fly has been solved by scientists who believe they can now offer technical advice on how to hit a fly before it has chance to escape.
A series of experiments with high-speed digital cameras and a swarm of obliging laboratory flies has discovered that the insects use a sophisticated defence system to anticipate a swatter's movements in a fraction of a second.
The researchers found that a fly can calculate the angle of attack, make appropriate movements to its body and legs and adjust its wings to allow it to evade a direct hit.
Professor Michael Dickinson of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, said the findings offered a practical suggestion to anyone plagued by an annoying intruder in the kitchen. "It is best not to swat the fly's starting position, but rather to aim a bit forward of that to anticipate where the fly is going to jump when it first sees your swatter," he said.
Houseflies have all-round vision and can take off in any direction independently of how their body is aligned. This is one of the reasons why they are so good at evading an attack, Professor Dickinson said.
In the instant between seeing a moving swatter and flying away, the fly's brain is able to calculate the position of the impending threat and place its legs and body in an optimal position that allows it to jump in the opposite direction. All of the action is carried out within 100 milliseconds after the fly first spots the moving swatter, which shows just how rapidly the fly's brain can process the information, said Professor Dickinson.
He believes the fly must possess an internal map within its brain which converts the position of the threat into the appropriate body motion that leads to successful evasive action. "These movements are made very rapidly, within about 200 milliseconds, but within that time the animal determines where the threat is coming from and activates an appropriate set of movements to position its legs and wings," he said. "This illustrates how rapidly the fly's brain can process sensory information into an appropriate motor response."
The findings are published in the journal Current Biology.
Notes from a small island: Is Sealand an independent 'micronation' or an illegal fortress?
World news in pictures
You thought Ryanair's attendants had it bad? Wait 'til you hear about their pilots
David Cameron goes to war with press over 'swivel-eyed loons' slur
Revealed: Eerie new images show forgotten French apartment that was abandoned at the outbreak of World War II and left untouched for 70 years
- 1 Heading for America? Prepare for the longest US immigration queues ever
- 2 Boxing: Carl Froch slams fellow Brits for sparring with Mikkel Kessler
- 3 You thought Ryanair's attendants had it bad? Wait 'til you hear about their pilots
- 4 David Cameron goes to war with press over 'swivel-eyed loons' slur
- 5 It’s official: thanks to Stephen Hawking's Israel boycott, anti-Semitism is no more
BMF is the UK’s biggest and best loved outdoor fitness classes
Find out what The Independent's resident travel expert has to say about one of the most beautiful small cities in the world
Win anything from gadgets to five-star holidays on our competitions and offers page.
£30000 - £40000 per annum + BENS: Progressive Recruitment: Drupal Developer A ...
£45000 - £50000 per annum + bens: Progressive Recruitment: C# WEB DEVELOPER Le...
£240 - £260 per day: Progressive Recruitment: WPF Developer (C#, VB.Net) North...
£85 - £120 per day: Randstad Education Cheshire: KS2 teacher needed to do PPA ...