Fly Simulator

Paul Raven @ 04-08-2009

house flyProof, if such were needed, that science is awesome and strange in equal measure: have you ever wondered how the hell flies can so effectively dodge your every effort to swat them? Sure you have – but you don’t have a lab full of stuff that you could use to find out the answer. The biologists at the Max Planck Institute for Neurobiology do, however, so they’ve built a flight simulator and wired it into the brain of an immobilised blowfly.

As the fly responded to virtual objects flying around it, the scientists used a fluorescent microscope to watch how its brain processed the images. Compared to people, who can distinguish a maximum of 25 discrete images per second, blowflies are visual virtuosos: They can sense up to 100 separate images per second and respond fast enough to change their flight direction.

No mention of any progress on discovering why flies, despite their incredible visual acuity, spend hours battering themselves against a closed window when there’s an open one right next to it… [image by dafydd359]

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2 Responses to “Fly Simulator”

  1. Robert Koslover says:

    Heh. Good story! If I may risk answering what may be intended as a rhetorical question: In regard to the reason flies batter themselves pointlessly against windows, it is because despite their impressive senses (as you noted in the article), they possess almost no ability to reason. They are basically hardwired/pre-programmed. And their programming doesn’t account for handling glass windows, since these are actually a relatively new phenomenon within their millions of years of evolutionary development. This same concept applies to ants, bees, and other insects. They all operate in pre-programmed modes, which can sometimes give a (false) appearance of considerable intelligence. But their lack of intelligence is revealed when their environment is altered to one that they do not have a program available to address. When that happens, all appearance of intelligence is lost and they appear to act mindlessly (and often quite dramatically so).

  2. Babylon says:

    ants and bees may be very simple at an individual level, however they function as a part of a community of insects and a higher level of intelligence is often apparent on a communal level.