The Loh Down On Science

Top Fly

Don't swat those fruit flies!  They're amazing!

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

Here's a sesame-seed-sized fruit fly that's faster than the speediest Top Gun pilot!  Drosophila hydei can alter course in less than one-hundredth of a second. That's fifty times faster than we blink!

Meet Michael Dickinson from the University of Washington. He says these flies flap their wings about 200 times a second.  And yet, in the time it takes to flap just once, the tiny jet-like fliers can roll, almost upside down at times, to escape trouble. 

To see these aerial acrobatics, Dickinson's team synchronized three cameras shooting 7,500 hundred frames a second.  Then they filmed the flies avoiding threatening shadows in a special flight arena.  

Later, the researchers watched in slow-motion detail as the teeny pilots performed a highly sophisticated calculation of danger – and banked to avoid it – in less than a split second.

Now the scientists want to learn how the fly's brain and muscles make that maneuver happen.

And you can learn a lot more, too!  Or maybe just throw out those old bananas.

***** For more 90-SECOND SCIENCE FACTS, click here.*****

The Loh Down on Science is produced by LDOS Media Lab, in partnership with the University of California, Irvine, and 89.3 KPCC. And made possible by the generous support of the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation.


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