Have you ever tried to swat a fly, only to be foiled, again and again? Ever wonder why flies seem to be so good at avoiding your approach? At TEDxCaltech, biologist Michael Dickinson explains the why this should be no surprise, revealing the shockingly sophisticated biology behind fly locomotion — and incredible power of its tiny brain.
The engine of a fly is absolutely fascinating. They have two types of flight muscle:
The so-called “power muscle” — which is stretch-activated, which means that it activates itself and does not need to be be controlled on a contraction to contraction basis by the nervous system. It’s specialized to generate the enormous power required for flight. And it fills the middle portion of the fly, so when a fly hits your windshield, it’s basically the power muscle that you’re looking at.
But attached to the base of the wing is a set of little, tiny control muscles that are not very powerful at all, but they are very fast and they are able to reconfigure the hinge of the wing on a stroke-by-stroke basis, and this is what enables the fly to change its wing and generate the changes in aerodynamic forces which change its flight trajectory.
And, of course, the role of the nervous system is to control all this…Flies excel in the sorts of sensors that they carry:
-They have antennae that sense odors and detect wind detection.
-They have a sophisticated eye, which is the fastest visual system on the planet.
-They have another set of eyes on the top of their head — we have no idea what they do.
-They have sensors on their wing — their wing is covered with sensors, including sensors that sense deformation of the wing; they can even taste with their wings.
Top photo via Flickr user cypherone.