This is how these little flies solve the complex challenges of in-flight navigation

For someone who often trips over objects that cross, it is difficult to imagine that a little insectwith a brain much smaller than ours, can maneuver quickly and skillfully and dodge obstacles in flight, even chasing prey.

Native to America, this fly is known for its ability to chase and capture other insects in flight with extreme precision.

A team of scientists from University of Minnesota in the USA and in Imperial College London in the UK noticed the aerial prowess of the ogre mosquitoes (Holcocephala fusca), a kind of thief flies which usually does not measure more than 7mm in its adult stage. Native to America, this dipteran is known for its ability to chase and capture other insects in flight with extreme precision.

Scientists were surprised that such a small brain could direct the ogre mosquito towards a moving object, avoiding any kind of difficulty at the same time. So they decided to investigate how this little insect combines the two sets of brain muscle instructions.

“Predator lifestyles require neural output to move quickly and accurately, and this pressure is intensified in miniature animals because they have fewer neurons,” he explains. Paloma Gonzalez-Bellidowho directs the Fly Systems Laboratory (FLYSY) at the University of Minnesota and lead author of the study, published in Journal of Experimental Biology.

Despite obstacles, these flies manage to intercept their prey. “We wanted to know how flexible their strategy is and whether they might face additional challenges during capture, such as obstacles in their way,” says González-Bellido.

A quick reaction to visual stimuli

To verify this, the team carried out a to experiment with the help of plastic bait and fishing line and recorded the persecution of the “prey” in high-speed video. By comparing recordings in the presence of obstacles, the researchers found that the ogre mosquitoes continually adjusted their trajectory based on the mixture of the two types of visual stimuli (the prey and the obstacles).

The researchers found that the ogre mosquitoes continually adjusted their trajectory based on the mixture of two types of visual stimuli: prey and obstacles.

If he obstacle It was big enough to hide the dam for more than 70 milliseconds, the insect probably gave up the chase. But if the line of sight was barely broken, the chase continued after the Diptera overcame the obstacle.

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“We found that the simple visual feedback – reacting to things rather than preventing them – can be used to quickly solve complex navigational challenges,” says co-author Samuel Fabianowho completed his PhD at the FLYSY Laboratory and now works in the Bioengineering department at Imperial College London.

Experts attribute the fly’s ability to adjust its trajectory speed yours small sizethat allows signals to travel quickly from the eye to the brain and flight muscles.

“This work demonstrates that even creatures with relatively small brains are capable of extreme, precise behavior at speeds we can barely see, let alone appreciate.”

A model for drones and aircraft

According to the authors, the findings may also have implications for fields that explore the innovation inspired by nature.

The findings could also have implications for fields that explore nature-inspired innovation.

“O robotic technology Current tends to use additional and expensive sensors to perform tasks such as obstacle avoidance (eg LIDAR or radar technology). However, animals, like our thieving flies, are able to perform various tasks simultaneously using only your information visual system (ie tracking the movement of a distant target and processing the position and magnification of possible obstacles), and with a small energy consumption”, emphasizes Fabian.

It is essential for researchers to understand how they combine this sensory information to generate fast and accurate behavioral responses to complex navigational challenges. “This could help inspire future innovations in the sensory capabilities of animals. robots”, they conclude.


Samuel T. Fabian et al. “Avoiding obstacles when intercepting a moving target: a miniature fly solution” Journal of Experimental Biology

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