Researchers study the interplay between biology and mechanics to understand how flies land inverted on ceilings.
Skilled pilots somersaulting their planes high up in the sky, though awe-inspiring, may come across as a sophisticated act only our complex brains with a hundred billion neurons, can peform. But, can you believe that tiny flies, which have only about a hundred thousand neurons, can do the same? In a new study, researchers from the National Centre for Biological Sciences (NCBS), Bengaluru, and the Pennsylvania State University and Colorado State University in the USA, have studied how flies land on ceilings. The researchers have also explored how the fly’s brain integrates visual and balance-related inputs from the surroundings to generate appropriate movement in the wings and legs to achieve a perfect landing.
“Our work is the first to provide the complete scope of behaviours of the fly landing upside-down on the ceiling,” says Prof Bo Cheng.
He is an Assistant Professor of Mechanical Engineering at the Pennsylvania State University and the corresponding author of the study. Published in the journal Science Advances, the study is also the first to understand how the wings of the flies move during such landings. The findings have implications for designing energy-efficient flying robots and drones.
Many flying insects, like flies and mosquitoes, perch on ceilings upside down at the blink of an eyelid. It was thought that these insects fly towards the ceiling, hit it and use their feet to cling on. However, for the first time, the current study uncovers the complex manoeuvres involved in inverting their bodies to land on the ceiling.
The researchers studied the landing behaviour of blue bottle flies (Calliphora vomitoria). They used high-speed videography to record the movements of these flies in a small testing chamber. They analysed how its different body parts, like the wings and legs, moved during a successful and a failed landing.