A fruit fly flaps its wings 200 times a second in normal flight, and even faster during escapes. (Reuters)

Anyone who has swatted at a fly knows how fast the insects can be. A new study shows how flies are able to make quick escapes, and the results surprised researchers.

Florian Muijres, a scientist at the University of Washington, and colleagues used high-speed cameras and small winged robots to study how the common fruit fly escapes from approaching threats. Their videos revealed that the flies rely on rapid banked turns that are set in motion with just a few quick beats of the insect’s wings.

Instead of keeping their bodies level and rotating like an airplane that is making a small turn with its tail rudder, the flies “pitch” and “roll” their bodies at the same time, researchers found. This maneuver requires more work, but it’s also five times faster than the flies’ normal in-flight turns.

Muijres and his team filmed 3,566 wing beats from 92 fruit fly escapes and then re-created the wing beats with their robots. Based on the findings, researchers suggest that the flies might have circuits in their brains to help them to respond so quickly.

Science News