Jul 12 2010

How to Swat a Fly

Published by at 7:21 am under Insects, Fish, Frogs


The other day I had a Buick-sized fly buzzing around my office and banging against my window.

House flies inevitably show up when the loading dock door stays open for a long delivery.  I don’t know why we have such enormous flies but they wander in, get lost in the dark hallways and fly up to the light.  Eventually they make it to my office. 

I try to swat them and fail.  I miss them nearly every time.  Am I uncoordinated? 

Actually flies are masters at avoiding swats.

Back in 2008 researchers at Caltech used high speed, high definition video to record the movements of fruit flies to see how they avoided a swat threat.  Amazingly, the flies positioned themselves for escape within 100 milliseconds of noticing the approaching swatter.  It didn’t matter if they were eating, resting or walking, they shifted their weight and were ready to escape with a mere flex of their legs.

The researchers concluded that fruit flies have fast-acting brains and the ability to plan ahead.  I can’t say this is true of house flies, but it seems so.

So how do you successfully swat a fly?  According to Michael Dickson of Caltech, you should creep up on it slowly because it doesn’t register slow movement, then “aim a bit forward of its location and try and anticipate where the fly will jump when it first sees your swatter.”

It seems a waste of my brain power to do this, but I’ll try it on the next one.

(photo of a house fly by Alvesgaspar from Wikimedia Commons. Click on the photo to see the original.)

6 responses so far

6 Responses to “How to Swat a Fly”

  1. Marianneon 12 Jul 2010 at 8:23 am

    I saw a show on PBS last year about this. It was amazing!

    I have actually tried to anticipate which way the fly will go before swatting and have had some success!

  2. Rachelon 12 Jul 2010 at 5:23 pm

    I believe on take off flies jump backward.

    Still in general it seems like flies have to age a bit before we’re really capable of swatting them. Those electric tennis rackets help a little, but the insect really has to be big enough.

  3. Mary DeVon 12 Jul 2010 at 5:23 pm

    It’s those @#$%^ compound eyes, I tell ya! They can see in every direction and you can’t sneak up on ‘em!

  4. Kate St. Johnon 12 Jul 2010 at 10:17 pm

    Tonight we had a house fly buzzing around the house. My cat loves to catch bugs so she watched it and waited. Then she ran across the room, jumped on the windowsill and caught the fly with her paws. Wow!
    So much for creeping up on it slowly so it doesn’t escape.

  5. Jon 13 Jul 2010 at 2:50 pm

    When I was in college I had a trick for catching flies in my room at night. I would turn off all the lights except for my computer monitor and wait for the fly to land on the screen then I would smash it with a kleenex or napkin.

    My chocolate lab used to love to catch flies when she was younger. She would just spit them out after she caught them though.

  6. Shannonon 13 Jul 2010 at 9:54 pm

    I used to live next to a dairy and cows really attract the flies!!! My house became a lab for efficient killing of flies. My best weapon was a wet rag snap. I now use the light method to lure them to a bathroom and, ‘SMACK’– I give them a wet towel snap. Works every time!!!!

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