June 18, 2018

Why is it so hard to swat a fly? (BBC)

Why is it so hard to swat a fly? (BBC)

Try to swat a fly and it will soon become clear that they’re faster than you. Much faster. But how on Earth do these tiny creatures – with their minuscule brains – outwit us so easily?

You’ve probably pondered it after chasing a fly around your house and flailing your shoe with repeated, unsuccessful swats. How does it move so fast? Can it read my mind?

It was the question put to the BBC World Service CrowdScience team for our most recent episode addressing the apparent super powers of tiny animals. The answer is that, compared with you and me, flies essentially see the world in slow motion.

To illustrate this, have a look at a clock with a ticking hand. As a human, you see the clock ticking at a particular speed. But for a turtle it would appear to be ticking at twice that speed. For most fly species, each tick would drag by about four times more slowly. In effect, the speed of time differs depending on your species.

This happens because animals see the world around them like a continuous video. But in reality, they piece together images sent from the eyes to the brain in distinct flashes a set number of times per second. Humans average 60 flashes per second, turtles 15, and flies 250. Read more

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