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Researchers Make Fruit Flies Perform Aerobatics Like Spitfire Pilots 51

KentuckyFC (1144503) writes Researchers from Cornell University glued a tiny magnetic bar to the back of fruit flies and allowed them to fly through an electromagnet. Pulsing the magnet then causes the flies to roll in mid-air, like victorious Spitfire pilots. The work isn't entirely frivolous. The team was studying how fruit flies achieve stable flight when they ought to be particularly susceptible to being rolled by tiny gusts of air.

It turns out that fruit flies have incredibly fast reactions. They respond to being rolled within a single wing beat, that's 5 milliseconds, flapping their wings asymmetrically to regain stable flight. That kind of reaction time makes them one of the fastest creatures in the animal world. By comparison, the visual startle response in flies takes 20 milliseconds and the quickest reactions humans can manage is about 100 milliseconds.
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Researchers Make Fruit Flies Perform Aerobatics Like Spitfire Pilots

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  • by Anonymous Coward

    Why are we teaching these pests to be even HARDER to kill???

    • we're not we're trying to learn how they control certain aspects of flight. which can be practically applied to aerospace technology being the goal

      • by Anonymous Coward

        Yes, but meanwhile the fruit flies are getting FIGHTER TRAINING! Goose is on the loose!

  • by Anonymous Coward

    smaller animals have less delay in receiving signals to the brain and then sending signals to another part of the body...

    its almost like linear distance can affect latency in communications systems

    • by PPH ( 736903 )

      Its also possible that this speed suggests a shorter feedback path. There may be something like rudimentary accelerometers in the fly's muscular control neurons that supply an error signal through a very short path. Even a larger animal provided with such a control system would see an order of magnitude or better improvement in response time. No brain feedback required.

      • We do have that sort of system. If you touch a hot pan with your hand, the response time is shorter than the time needed for the signal to reach the brain, be processed, and generate a command to move the hand/arm away from the pain. Same with stepping on a sharp rock.

        However the signal path is still much longer than the fruit fly's total possible signal path. Looking at this page of nerve impulse speed [], it seems nerves send their signal from less than 1 meter per second, to over 120 meters per second. It i

        • It seems to me that the closest analogy to this test would be our sense of balance. Our reaction to tipping over is mostly unconsciously controlled and happens faster than our normal movements.

          Balance is processed in the inner ear and eyes giving about a short a signal path as is possible for us.

  • LOL ... (Score:4, Funny)

    by gstoddart ( 321705 ) on Wednesday August 06, 2014 @01:21PM (#47615229) Homepage

    I for one welcome out new, magnetic fruit fly overlords.

    • I for one welcome out new

      Yes, I know, before you bother telling me ... I've already put on the cone of shame.

  • Old News (Score:5, Informative)

    by DudeTheMath ( 522264 ) on Wednesday August 06, 2014 @01:26PM (#47615263) Homepage

    This [] was posted back in March (in fact, I submitted it myself). Dupe dupe. C'mon, editors.

  • A number of years ago I once clapped trying to kill a fruit fly, and (unintentionally, of course) cleanly severed its abdomen and one wing. As animals sometimes do in the face of mortal calamities, it tried to regain itself. I watched while it took several steps forward on the kitchen counter and then flew upward a few inches in a perfect, conic cork screw before landing squarely again, and then repeat the exact same steps and attempted flight two more times.
  • I do that every time I turn on the ceiling fan in the kitchen.
  • attach machine guns to them and replace the F35?

  • by khr ( 708262 ) <> on Wednesday August 06, 2014 @02:09PM (#47615677) Homepage

    Time flies like an arrow, magnetized fruit flies like a banana.

  • by jovius ( 974690 ) on Wednesday August 06, 2014 @02:18PM (#47615769)

    Isn't the correct term reflex rather than reaction, considering that it's an insect? It's more like a mechanical than biological delay.

    • Not only that but the response has to travel what .2mm? Of course they can do it fast.

      Now engineer a fruit fly the size of a dog and run the test again. I bet response time goes way up.

      • Now engineer a fruit fly the size of a dog and run the test again. I bet response time goes way up.

        Geez, quit giving Michael Crichton ideas for his next "OMG Technology Bad!!!" novel.

        Now, engineer a dog the size of a fruit fly and the whole "pooper scooper" paradigm goes away. No need for specialized dog parks; heck, no need to walk your dog any farther than around the dining room table! I, for one, welcome our new micro-sized Man's Best Friends!

    • by Livius ( 318358 )

      Reflex is one kind of reaction.

  • A Mantis Shrimp [] can strike its prey in 8 milliseconds according to the link. Granted, its a little slower, but it's also underwater and that strike has the force of 1500 Newtons. Actually, it's probably a little faster as that time includes strikes from two different appendages and the time it takes for two cavitation bubbles to collapse.

    From this link []: Peacock mantis shrimp use a hammer-like appendage to smash open snail shells for food. Not only did high speed imaging reveal that peacock mantis shrimp f

    • This isn't the same thing. What's being measured here is the reaction time, which isn't the same as measuring how fast an animal's appendages move.

  • That fly over there does look a bit like Robert Shaw. []

  • "Carrier bees wait for favourable breezes. If a storm arises, they steady themselves with the weight of a little pebble held in their feet; some authorities say that it is placed on their shoulders ...."

    - Pliny the Elder: Naturalis Historia []

  • OK, it is a pretty cool project, and the illustrations were good, but is there no video of the flies "rolling like Spitfires". How do they know it happened if there isn't video? How do we know it happened?

  • by argStyopa ( 232550 ) on Wednesday August 06, 2014 @03:55PM (#47616641) Journal

    Not to trivialize the little buggers' reflexes, but this can't have been entirely unpredicted?
    Human quick-fire nerve channels transmit signals at 100m/s, so, considering it's nearly 1m from my fingertip to my brain, that's 20 milliseconds right there from finger to brain back to finger for the reaction. That same distance in a fly is what, perhaps 0.2mm? That means his signal-time is 0.004 milliseconds unless I've misplaced a 0 in there somewhere.
    Not to mention, I'd expect that there's something to be said for the efficiency of function in the CPU, as it were. A brain evolved for perhaps 8 'tasks' in total (walk, fly, seek food, eat, seek mate, reproduce, recognize danger, flee danger?) would likely be intrinsically quicker-processing at any of those tasks than one that is (one hopes) substantially more complex?

  • "The work isn't entirely frivolous."


  • by tomhath ( 637240 ) on Wednesday August 06, 2014 @05:55PM (#47617747)
    Next the researchers need to figure out if the flies are calculating the necessary wing beats to correct or whether it's just a feedback loop. And whether they see that they're tilted or whether it's a built-in accelerometer. I'm betting on acceleration and calculus since the flies went to Cornell.

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