Fun Fly Fact: Why Is the Fly So Hard to Swat?

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swatting a fly

Flies have compound eyes through which they have a nearly 360-degree field of view, and anyone who has ever tried to swat a fly knows how fast they can move. But it’s not just their eyes or quick reflexes that give them the upper hand, rather studies by Caltech Professor Michael Dickinson have found that their tiny brains have huge planning ability. 
According to his team’s research, within 100 milliseconds of spotting an incoming threat, a fly takes into account its body position, calculates the location of the threat, and comes up with an escape plan, placing its legs in an optimal position to hop out of the way in the opposite direction. Through high-resolution, high-speed digital imaging, the researchers were able to see that 

  • When a threat comes from in front of the fly, the fly moves its middle legs forward and leans back, then raises and extends its legs to push off backward. 
  • When the threat comes from the back, the fly moves its middle legs a tiny bit backwards. 
  • With a threat from the side, the fly keeps its middle legs stationary, but leans its whole body in the opposite direction before it jumps.

So, what’s the secret to successful swatting? Don’t target the fly’s starting position, aim forward of where you anticipate the fly will jump (according to the bullets above) when it first detects your swatter.

Source: Caltech

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