back to article Fruit flies use the power of the sun to help them fly in straight lines

Fruit flies may have tiny brains about as big as poppy seeds, but their noggins are complex enough to the remember the Sun’s position to help with navigation, according to a new study in the journal Current Biology. Without these special compass cells in their brain fruit flies, known as Drosophila, would end up flying …

  1. mscha

    Fruit flies fly like an arrow.

  2. drand

    Time flies...

    like an arrow, but fruit flies like a banana.

    1. Nick Kew

      Re: Time flies...

      IME they prefer an orange.

  3. Valarian

    "We took a flask of Bears' urine and boiled it for two hours"...

    1. 404

      <raises hand>

      Who held the flask for the bear to urinate in? Trained fruit flies?

      1. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

        Who held the flask for the bear to urinate in?

        Oh that was Stumpy Dave. See the guy over there with the missing eye and the missing arm? He's our bear expert.

      2. Antron Argaiv Silver badge
        Thumb Up

        The intern, natch.

        (Stumpy Dave)

  4. BebopWeBop

    Brains the size of a....

    But politicians still mange to head to the greatest personal opportunity - see precedent in equally small noggins

  5. et tu, brute?

    "For flies crossing inhospitable territory, flying around in circles would be really dangerous - they're less likely to find any food or water"

    No shit Sherlock...

  6. Kubla Cant

    Drosophila can fly nearly 15 kilometers - over nine miles - across Death Valley in a single evening

    As long as there's an over-ripe banana on the other side of Death Valley.

    The other superpower of fruit flies appears to be evasion. Judging by the way they fly and their small size, you expect to be able to grab one in flight, but they always seem to dodge at the last minute.

    1. JimmyPage
      Thumb Up

      The other superpower of fruit flies appears to be evasion.

      Because their minds are running waaaaaaaaaay faster than our mammalian neurons. They see the world in ultra slow motion.

      (Little tip ... they take off *backwards*. You can splat them if you aim a little up and behind them).

      I'll believe more in this AI bollocks when someone can rig up some software to track a fly - in real time.

    2. MOH

      Just use chopsticks, it' s much easier

      1. Andytug

        Electric tennis racquet is the best

        Aim slightly behind, swish and zap.

      2. IceC0ld


        Just use chopsticks, it' s much easier


        only for beginners :o)

    3. Mark 85 Silver badge

      So this study might be useful to the military for piloting drones, missiles, etc.? Just don't distract the pilot with a banana.

      1. Spherical Cow

        It's fairly easy to flick a sitting fly with your finger. Get your finger ready to flick, then "creep up" on the fly by slowly sliding your hand along the surface the fly is on. When in range, FLICK! The fly is usually stunned for a few seconds, giving you time to deal with it permanently.

        A finger-flick is the fastest movement a human can make.

        1. TRT Silver badge

          A finger-flick is the fastest movement a human can make

          Apart from Jeff Bezos if you ask him a question about tax...

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Fly Superpowers

    The speed at which signals travel between different regions of biological brains is really quite slow, somewhere in the order of 100-200 mph iirc, and this means that the inter-region travel times can be lower in a smaller brain than they could be in a larger brain: the effect is that a smaller brain can be thought of as having the potential to operate at a higher frequency than a larger brain. If we compare the size of regions in the human brain - say a couple of inches - with the size of the entire fruit fly brain - apparently the size of a poppy seed - we can see that the relative inter-region travel times for a fruit fly will be several orders of magnitude lower than those for a human.

    At the same time, being smaller makes the brain less complex and capable so the 'problems' it must solve need to be simplified, essentially by reducing the amount of data that needs to be considered - while it's flying along it won't also be wondering if Ralph really meant what he said last night, whether Clapton exists, or getting distracted by the scenery.

    As a consequence, things that happen at what we regard as a 'normal' rate/speed appear to happen in slow motion from the fruit flies' point of view - what seems swift to you seems snail-like to the fly.

  8. Unicornpiss

    If I lived in the middle of the desert..

    ..fruit flies would still manage to find their way into my house, and annoyingly fly in circles 3 inches from my face.

    1. TRT Silver badge

      Re: If I lived in the middle of the desert..

      They're following a CO2 gradient, probably the one caused by your exhaled breath. Just stop breathing for a few minutes - they'll go away.

      1. MiguelC Silver badge

        Re: If I lived in the middle of the desert..

        If you stop breathing for more than a few minutes other kinds of flies arrive...

  9. Sureo

    Typical science

    One observation leads to dozens of more questions.

  10. The_H

    "They carefully poked a tiny hole..."

    ...into the flies' heads

    Not when I'm eating my Friday apple, please.

    God help us if we ever find aliens and that's how we work out how they go. Or worse, if they ever find us....

  11. Not also known as SC

    Flying Round in Circles

    "Without these special compass cells in their brain fruit flies ... would end up flying endlessly in circles."

    Any idea why? Are the wings different sizes, or do the researchers mean to say that they'd expect the flies to always fly towards the Sun so would they follow the sun? My initial theory was too much fermented fruit but I'd be interested in the real reasoning behind this statement.

    1. Gene Cash Silver badge

      Re: Flying Round in Circles

      Why would they fly in a straight line? If they don't, it's some kind of arc, which will probably lead to a circle.

      Flying in a straight line is rather difficult.

      And it's not going to be a circle either, the flight path will probably end up resembling a bowl-of-spagetti sort of path.

      1. Not also known as SC

        Re: Flying Round in Circles

        @Gene Cash According to the Mighty Boosh, a human will walk in a circle with no reference points to refer to because we have one leg longer than the other. I just wondered if the same thing applied with slightly different wing sizes leading to the fly moving in an arc as you said. However as the text referred to the flies aligning with the light source I wondered if the researchers meant that if the inbuilt compass cells weren't present the flies would always head towards the light source.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Flying Round in Circles

        "Flying in a straight line is rather difficult"

        Assuming no intrinsic asymmetry in the flying structure, or propulsion system, the only problem with flying in a straight line is accounting for X-winds & turbulence..

        1. Allan George Dyer

          Re: Flying Round in Circles

          @LeeE - "the only problem with flying in a straight line is accounting for X-winds & turbulence.."

          Are you a TIE Fidhter pilot?

  12. Allan George Dyer

    Could fruit flies be used as Britain's alternative to Gallileo?

    1. BongoJoe

      Laugh, you may do.

      But I believe that, once upon a time, we used a specific breed of spiders' web for gun sights as they were always at a perfect 90 degrees.

      1. Allan George Dyer

        This article says black widow spider silk was used by the US because it was thin, elastic and durable, no mention of the web angle. Also, the UK used spiders from the Yorkshire moors. Have an upvote for leading me to an interesting topic.

  13. StuntMisanthrope

    3rd Slip, if you're bowling pies.

    It's the weekend and the cricket's on. Not everybody's cup of tea, I grant you. However, if you're paying attention, the pitch looked favorable. That being said, I'd still have a butchers when the phase has passed at that magnetic chemistry. You can never tell whether effect, past action or the sound is good. #foodforthoughtandsharing

  14. SonOfDilbert

    I have proof that they do not navigate by the sun...

    ...they navigate by my frikken kitchen sink.

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