The Loh Down On Science

Fly Swatting

Finally! Caltech scientists reveal why flies are so darned hard to swat.

Why are flies so hard to swat?

This is Sandra Tsing Loh, with the Loh Down on Science.

And with news that's sure to bug you.

The fly's uncanny ability to evade a slapping hand has intrigued Caltech's Michael Dickinson for years. To put this PESKY mystery to rest, he and grad student Gwyneth Card filmed captive fruit flies fleeing CERTAIN DEATH.

Actually, a harmless, falling disk of felt-covered Styrofoam--but SCARY.

The film revealed a pest with a plan. The INSTANT flies spot a potential threat, they crouch into a pose that--upon takeoff--will send them flying in the safest direction. Threat coming from behind? They shift their rocket-launcher middle legs back, and angle their bodies forward--like a sprinter awaiting the gun. Literally FACING danger? Swing legs forward, lean back.

In this way, they're ready and waiting WELL before any Two-Legged Human Giant waves a swatter. Dickinson suspects houseflies, mosquitoes, and other insects also employ a similar escape strategy.

The findings reveal KILLER leg-eye coordination, and a hitherto unappreciated sophistication of the inner workings of the fly brain.

You can still hate 'em though.


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