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Flying in the face of danger

india Updated: Aug 31, 2008 22:52 IST
Hindustan Times
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US researchers have unraveled one of the greatest mysteries of all time: the maddening ability of flies to dodge even the most carefully aimed newspapers. A California Institute of Technology team of bioengineers used high-speed cameras to explain the ability of flies to bolt at incredibly short notice. Apparently, it has all to do with the way flies anticipate danger — read looming fly swatters — and react with exceptionally fast footwork.

Flies, understandably, don’t really have a choice when it comes to the fight or flight philosophy adopted by sturdier creatures. They plump for flight each time, and every time — and most of the time, as anyone who’s been led on an exasperating fly chase would vouch. Helping flies make such speedy getaways is their tiny brain, which locates the threat, calculates the best escape route, and arranges their legs — all six of them — in the best position for a speedy take-off.

That this leaves their compound eyes barely a tenth of a second to spot the danger and calculate its direction makes flies arguably the most sophisticated flying machines around. Never mind if this will be the last thing on your mind the next time you hunt a fly that is driving you crazy.