Flies Don't Think Much Of Turning (w/ Video)

April 2, 2010 By Devin Powell, Inside Science News Service
The wings twist out-of-synch with one other as the fly makes a turn. Credit: Attila Bergou / Brown University

The next time a fly dodges your swatter, take a moment to appreciate how maneuverable these little pests are. Fruit flies can make a complete U-turn in one-tenth of the time it takes you to blink.

"That's faster than your eye would be able to perceive," said Attila Bergou of Brown University in Providence, R.I. "It's something that manmade machines can't currently reproduce."

This aerial stunt requires surprisingly little thought on their part, according to experiments conducted by Bergou and colleagues at Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y.

For years, scientists have known that a fly moving in a straight line synchronizes the movements of its wings. The flies bounce up and down, back and forth with a rowing motion that creates eddies of air, keeping the insect aloft.

But researchers have puzzled over how a fly's simple can precisely control each of the 250 wing flaps per second it makes to execute a 180 degree turn.

Watch The Turn
"Imagine flapping your arms 250 times per second," said Bergou. "You're going to have a really tough time controlling the orientation of your arms."

Using a filming at 8,000 frames per second and new image tracking software, Bergou discovered that flies rely less on their brains than previously thought and more on the clever design of their wings. To make a turn, a fly simply twitches a muscle that rolls its shoulder slightly. The wing does the rest, naturally adjusting over the course of a few beats, tilting by about 9 degrees, and creating drag forces that wheel the insect around.

This design principle behind fly U-turns -- wings that are self-adjusting and do the work of turning by themselves -- has attracted the interest of researchers like Robert Wood of Harvard University, who are developing the latest generation of tiny manmade machines that buzz not with life but with electricity.

Explore further: Micro flying robots can fly more effectively than flies

Related Stories

Micro flying robots can fly more effectively than flies

August 1, 2009

There is a long held belief among engineers and biologists that micro flying robots that fly like airplanes and helicopters consume much more energy than micro robots that fly like flies. A new study now shows that a fly ...

Flies are given federal protection

May 11, 2006

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has extended federal protection to 12 species of Hawaiian picture-wing flies under the Endangered Species Act.

Scientist uses dragonflies to better understand flight

February 20, 2006

If mastering flight is your goal, you can't do better than to emulate a dragonfly. With four wings instead of the standard two and an unusual pitching stroke that allows the bug to hover and even shift into reverse, the slender, ...

Cyclogyro Flying Robot Improves its Angles of Attack

January 22, 2009

(PhysOrg.com) -- In the past few decades, researchers have been investigating a variety of flying machines. Most studies have focused on improving the flying performance of standard flying mechanisms, rather than developing ...

Recommended for you

'Zebra' tribal bodypaint cuts fly bites 10-fold: study

January 16, 2019

Traditional white-striped bodypainting practiced by indigenous communities mimics zebra stripes to reduce the number of potentially harmful horsefly bites a person receives by up to 10-fold, according to new research published ...

Big genome found in tiny forest defoliator

January 15, 2019

The European gypsy moth (EGM) is perhaps the country's most famous invasive insect—a nonnative species accidentally introduced to North America in the 1860s when a few escaped from a breeding experiment in suburban Boston. ...

Why haven't cancer cells undergone genetic meltdowns?

January 15, 2019

Cancer first develops as a single cell going rogue, with mutations that trigger aggressive growth at all costs to the health of the organism. But if cancer cells were accumulating harmful mutations faster than they could ...

2 comments

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

seneca
1 / 5 (1) Apr 02, 2010
This is basically well known stuff - have look at this animation..

http://wpcontent....wing.gif

The lever mechanism allows insect to fly a much faster, then the speed of muscle contractions.
mattytheory
5 / 5 (1) Apr 02, 2010
You're right, seneca, that is exactly what this article is about. Basically.

Did you even read the article? Or am I missing something?

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.