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Male flesh flies high-speed pursuit of females

ITHACA, N.Y. -- While examining the flight behavior of flesh flies, Cornell University entomologists have discovered that males of the species (Sarcophagidae: Neobellieria bullata ) -- traveling at very high speed, soaring in sexual pursuit and swiveling their heads like gun turrets -- literally can lose sight of a target female. Yet the males compensate for the momentary loss of vision and still catch up to mate.

A detailed explanation of this quirk in vision physiology and neurological processing could help military and aerospace engineers to build aircraft and artillery that have improved detection of evasive targets.

"This fly has a very small brain, but it moves at relatively fast speeds, over 2 meters per second. The male flesh fly is very successful at chasing and catching the female even without an elaborate, high-powered onboard computer. Our study is the first to determine that chasers, indeed, radically move their heads while in pursuit, which means that they may be aiming the high-resolution part of their eye at the female," said Cole Gilbert, Cornell University professor of entomology. He is presenting this research today Nov. 10, at the Society for Neuroscience meeting at the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center in New Orleans. Gilbert's poster presentation is titled "View from the cockpit of a fly: visual guidance of sexual aerial pursuit in male flesh flies."

Flesh flies are so named because of their diet: They are among the first species to show up on dead animals. It was near such road-kill carcasses that the researchers were able to gather the males and females of this species.

While male flesh flies have evolved high-resolution regions in their compound eye, for the purpose of catching and mating with females, those high-definition parts are not always necessary, the researchers found. "Some flies look right at their target and others do not," said Gilbert. "Knowing where the fly is looking is important because vi
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Contact: Blaine P. Friedlander Jr.
bpf2@cornell.edu
607-255-3290
Cornell University News Service
10-Nov-2003


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