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Why it’s so Hard to Hit a Housefly

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Image: Wikimedia Commons

Hitting a house fly is one of the hardest things for a human being to do. If you’ve tried it before, then you know the frustration that comes with trying to get rid of a housefly by hitting it dead with an object. It’s almost impossible.

But what’s the secret to the house fly’s apparent invincibility? The answer is one that is not very easy to understand.

Scientific studies have found that the housefly’s tiny brain can process so much more visual information than the human brain can. The result is that houseflies see things in slow motion – well, sort of.

Scientists studied the ability of different animals to detect very quick flashes of glimmering light. They found that some animals – the tiny ones especially – could perceive very fast flickers of light while some others were very slow in actually seeing and perceiving the flashes of light.

Small creatures with high levels of activity and movement were the ones with high ability to perceive and process high amounts of visual information within a given amount of time.

A television screen for instance, actually flickers a lot. Though it does, the human eye and brain cannot perceive all the flickers, especially the very fast ones. Instead we see a continuous flow of light. But houseflies can. And several insects with fast and high levels of activity and movement can too.

The need for this ability among houseflies is very obvious. The housefly flies at speeds where it needs to make decisions very quickly and where a wrong move in its flight could mean life or death. Imagine for instance, a fan, rag, newspaper or some other object, being swung quickly at a flying housefly. The eyes and the brain need to be very fast at perceiving and processing images so that the flying housefly can make the necessary evasive action. If not, the fly could take a big hit and die. That’s why they have it.

Who would have thought that the tiny brain of a housefly would have the ability to take in a huge load of information and be able to make the best decisions very quickly?

An insect’s compound eyes (Image: Flickr/Gustavo Mazzarollo)

The second reason why houseflies are difficult to strike is their huge compound eyes. The eyes of the housefly allow it 360 vision, making it able to see virtually everything that is around it: above, below, in front and behind.

Many insects have compound eyes. Not of all them are able to combine it with their other attributes in the manner that the housefly does, though.

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