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Researchers Make Fruit Flies Perform Aerobatics Like Spitfire Pilots

Unknown Lamer posted about 6 months ago | from the aces-high dept.

Science 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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Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#47615205)

I love that name!

sounds like a damn funny party trick (1)

swschrad (312009) | about 6 months ago | (#47618109)

that got funded as research. well played!

Why? (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#47615213)

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

Re:Why? (1)

maliqua (1316471) | about 6 months ago | (#47615233)

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

Re:Why? (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#47616069)

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

Last Post (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#47615215)


So what we learned is (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#47615223)

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

Re:So what we learned is (1)

PPH (736903) | about 6 months ago | (#47615345)

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.

Re:So what we learned is (2)

I'm New Around Here (1154723) | about 6 months ago | (#47616081)

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 [wikipedia.org] , it seems nerves send their signal from less than 1 meter per second, to over 120 meters per second. It is hard to say how long a signal/response event will take (I'm not going to experiment on my family today), but it isn't surprising that a small insect has a quicker response than a much larger human, or even than a moderate sized bird.

Re:So what we learned is (1)

mister_playboy (1474163) | about 6 months ago | (#47619995)

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 ... (3, Funny)

gstoddart (321705) | about 6 months ago | (#47615229)

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

Re:LOL ... (2)

gstoddart (321705) | about 6 months ago | (#47615239)

I for one welcome out new

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

Re:LOL ... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#47615295)

What's wrong with the ones we have now?

Old News (4, Informative)

DudeTheMath (522264) | about 6 months ago | (#47615263)

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

Re:Old News (4, Funny)

PPH (736903) | about 6 months ago | (#47615289)

Evidently, Slashdot editors' reaction times are measured in years.

Re:Old News (1)

war4peace (1628283) | about 6 months ago | (#47615387)

+1 funny!

Re:Old News (2)

roman_mir (125474) | about 6 months ago | (#47615599)

Exactly, also there was this one, from April 11 [slashdot.org] . /. is in love with flies, maybe /. has flies for editors, that would explain the attention span...

I would tend to agree they are magnificent fliers (1)

spads (1095039) | about 6 months ago | (#47615325)

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.

What causes anal itching? (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#47615353)

Itchy bottom
Scratching an itchy bottom can make the problem worse.
Pruritus ani can have a primary or secondary cause. Primary causes - that is, essential conditions that are not the result of something else underlying them - are either functional or psychological.

In functional anal itching, a small amount of feces escapes because of anorectal dysfunction, directly causing the itching.1

In psychological anal itching there is no physical problem with the anus or the skin around it. This mind-related problem can be complex, associated with psychosomatic or psychiatric disorders (depression, for example).1

The list of secondary causes of anal itching - those in which there is an underlying cause - is much longer. These may be collected into broad groups:1-4

Hygiene (too much or too little), and skin irritants (such as soaps)
Skin (dermatological) conditions (such as dermatitis and psoriasis)
Anal or rectal disorders (piles, and anal fistulas and fissures, for example), which may lead to fecal soilage
Infections (including parasitic and sexually transmitted)
Systemic (entire body) medical conditions (including aplastic anemia, diabetes, inflammatory bowel disease, jaundice, leukemia, lymphoma, thyroid disease)
Foods (dietary irritants, such as chilli peppers)
Drugs - chemotherapy, colchicine, neomycin, quinidine.

Re:What causes anal itching? (1)

Russ1642 (1087959) | about 6 months ago | (#47615379)

So you expected to paste something else but instead you copied another tab with WebMD open. Could have been worse I guess.

Re:What causes anal itching? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#47615633)

You forgot to list your mustache and turtleneck sweaters, but these may be particular to you.

Funnier (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#47615463)

I misread the title as Restaurant instead of Researchers and was very confused. But way funnier.

Big deal (1)

RobSwider (669148) | about 6 months ago | (#47615587)

I do that every time I turn on the ceiling fan in the kitchen.

So now we just (1)

fredrated (639554) | about 6 months ago | (#47615589)

attach machine guns to them and replace the F35?

Spinal Tap (1)

istartedi (132515) | about 6 months ago | (#47616311)

The spec said 18 meters, not 1.8 mm!.

Oops (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#47615617)

I read fapping their...... nevermind.

Good (1)

Tyrannicsupremacy (1354431) | about 6 months ago | (#47615635)

I hope this annoys those little bastards as much as they annoy me.

Re:Good (1)

occasional_dabbler (1735162) | about 6 months ago | (#47616681)

Well said! Although learning what evolutionary marvels they are makes me feel a bit bad about using my deodorant and a lighter as a flamethrower to drop dozens of the little sods from the air above my food-waste bin...

Re:Good (1)

Tyrannicsupremacy (1354431) | about 6 months ago | (#47617807)

Have been catching with apple cider vinegar cup trap to limited success. Thanks for suggestion. Will investigate immolation.

Re:Good (1)

pjt33 (739471) | about 6 months ago | (#47620721)

There have been cases (at least two reported this year) of people burning down houses when using this approach, so a modicum of caution is indicated.

Re:Good (1)

Tyrannicsupremacy (1354431) | about 6 months ago | (#47621389)

Have played with fire for most of life. Have reached an understanding with the creature. Thanks for concern.

The old saying... Updated... (5, Funny)

khr (708262) | about 6 months ago | (#47615677)

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

Reaction or reflex? (2)

jovius (974690) | about 6 months ago | (#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.

Re: Reaction or reflex? (1)

peragrin (659227) | about 6 months ago | (#47616507)

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.

Re: Reaction or reflex? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#47617135)

I for one do not welcome our new dog-sized fruit flies overlords...

Re: Reaction or reflex? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#47619425)

I for one do not welcome our new dog-sized fruit flies overlords...

At least they'll be much easier to swat.

Cleaning up afterwards though, eww...

Re: Reaction or reflex? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#47619999)

In Soviet Russia, dog-sized fruit fly overlords welcome YOU!

Re: Reaction or reflex? (1)

cellocgw (617879) | about 6 months ago | (#47621645)

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!

Re:Reaction or reflex? (1)

Livius (318358) | about 6 months ago | (#47617349)

Reflex is one kind of reaction.

CuBm (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#47616127)

fear the reaper ssuden and The channel to sign Clearly. There RAM) for about 20 the NetBSD project, guest and never get The 'community'

Meh (1)

The Grim Reefer (1162755) | about 6 months ago | (#47616241)

A Mantis Shrimp [chesapeakebay.net] 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 [duke.edu] : 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 forelimbs reach maximum speeds from 12-23 m/s (in water!), but it also showed that cavitation bubbles were forming between the appendage and snail shell. We found that, as a result of the limb's extraordinary speed, the water cavitates (vaporizes) when the limb strikes the prey. Cavitation is a destructive phenomenon; when these vapor bubbles collapse, they essentially cause a small implosion in the water which produces heat, light and sound. For example, rapidly rotating boat propellers are often badly damaged by cavitation to the point of developing holes in the metal.

By linking high speed imaging with force sensors and acoustic sensors, we were able to show that mantis shrimp wield two types of strike forces â" the first force is due to the appendage physically striking the snail shell and the second is due to the collapse of the cavitation bubble. Thus, for each predatory strike, mantis shrimp work like jack-hammers with a series of four force peaks from the impact of the first appendage, the collapse of the first cavitation bubble and then the impact of the second appendage and the collapse of the second cavitation bubble. All of this happens in less than 800 Âs, with peak forces of 1500 N (over 2500 times the animalâ(TM)s body weight).

Re:Meh (1)

Time_Ngler (564671) | about 6 months ago | (#47619965)

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.

Spitfire pilots (1)

PPH (736903) | about 6 months ago | (#47616295)

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

Pliny the Elder: bees use pebbles to stabilize (1)

handy_vandal (606174) | about 6 months ago | (#47616331)

"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 [archive.org]

where is the video? (1)

Todd Palin (1402501) | about 6 months ago | (#47616337)

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?

Re:where is the video? (1)

PetiePooo (606423) | about 6 months ago | (#47616701)

I'm with you. Show me video, or it didn't happen!

Still, (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 months ago | (#47616451)

Still, even with magnets, I can kill fly with my hands.

Lord of the Flies (2)

argStyopa (232550) | about 6 months ago | (#47616641)

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?

Incentives (1)

Livius (318358) | about 6 months ago | (#47617363)

"The work isn't entirely frivolous."


are they doing calculus? (2)

tomhath (637240) | about 6 months ago | (#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.

Do a barrel roll! (1)

Arancaytar (966377) | about 6 months ago | (#47621073)


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