Dive Bombing Killer Flies Are So Fast – Over 3g Acceleration – They Lose Steering Control

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Killer Fly Comparison

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Killer flies. Credit: S.T. Fabian

Killer flies can reach velocities of over 3g when aerial diving to capture their victim — however at such high speeds they frequently miss out on since they can’t remedy their course.

These are the findings of a research study by scientists at the Universities of Cambridge, Lincoln, and Minnesota, released just recently in the Journal of the Royal Society Interface.

Killer flies (Coenosia attenuata) carry out high-speed aerial dives to assault victim flying underneath them, reaching remarkable velocities of approximately 36 m/s2, comparable to 3.6 times the velocity due to gravity (or 3.6g). This occurs since they beat their wings as they fall, integrating the velocity of powered flight with the velocity of gravity.

This is an outstanding task: diving Falcons, the fastest animals that precede in the air, accomplish much lower velocities of just 6.8m/s2. Falcons dive by folding their wings and merely letting gravity accelerate them towards their victim.

For the small Killer fly however, the high speeds accomplished in aerial dives might come as a surprise — since the scientists believe the fly doesn’t take the result of gravity into account when diving to obstruct a target.


Killer flies can reach velocities of over 3g when aerial diving to capture their victim – however at such high speeds they frequently miss out on since they can’t remedy their course. Credit: S. Rossoni

To get their outcomes, the scientists developed a transparent ‘flight arena’ and flew a dummy victim target through it at consistent speed. Killer flies were recorded with high speed camera as they assaulted the target, and the scientists saw the video footage back in sluggish movement — utilizing this information to rebuild the whole attack series in 3D.

The research study discovered that Killer flies reached much greater velocities in flight when removing from the ceiling of the arena, compared to from the flooring or walls. The flies beat their wings at a comparable rate any place they introduced from, suggesting that their flight speed is identified by a mix of wing power and gravity.

“When Killer flies took off from the floor or walls of the arena, they moved at the time when they could take the shortest path to the target. But they couldn’t manage that when they took off from the ceiling because the high acceleration caused by gravity changed the expected flight path,” stated Sergio Rossoni, a PhD trainee in the University of Cambridge’s Department of Zoology and very first author of the paper.

Killer Fly With Prey

Killer fly with victim. Credit: S.T. Fabian

By diving with super-high velocity the Killer fly often captures its target victim very rapidly, however it frequently misses out on since its speed makes it challenging to alter course mid-dive if the victim relocations. But even if the fly doesn’t arrive on target, the dive rapidly minimizes its range from the victim so it can keep sight of it while making the last manoeuvers to capture it.

The scientists believe the result of not representing gravity throughout down dives may be compensated by another benefit. High speed dives require the prospective victim to alter instructions as the aggressor methods, however to do this the victim needs to decrease — making it much easier to capture.

Insects that hunt in the air generally assault their victim upwards, since the contrast of the victim versus the sky makes it much easier to see. Killer flies are uncommon pest predators in this regard; searching downwards versus an aesthetically messy ground, utilizing eyes that have just coarse resolution, is harder.

“This research into miniature flies helps us understand what shortcuts are acceptable when survival depends on fast decisions and accurate actions, but the sensory capabilities and processing power of the predator are heavily constrained,” stated Professor Gonzalez-Bellido at the University of Minnesota, who led the research study.

Reference: “Gravity and active velocity limitation the capability of killer flies (Coenosia attenuata) to guide towards victim when assaulting from above” by S. Rossoni, S. T. Fabian, G. P. Sutton and P. T. Gonzalez-Bellido, 26 May 2021, Journal of the Royal Society Interface.
DOI: 10.1098/rsif.2021.0058

This research study was moneyed by the Air Force Office of Scientific Research, the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council and the Royal Society.



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