I'm obsessed with insects, particularly insect flight. I think the evolution of insect flight is perhaps one of the most important events in the history of life. Without insects, there'd be no flowering plants. Without flowering plants, there would be no clever, fruit-eating primates giving TED Talks.
When it first notices an approaching threat, a fly's body might be in any sort of posture depending on what it was doing at the time, like grooming, feeding, walking, or courting. Our experiments showed that the fly somehow 'knows' whether it needs to make large or small postural changes to reach the correct preflight posture.
The genus Drosophila is one of the great success stories. There's hundreds of species within the genus. They're on every continent except Antarctica, they're in tropical rain forests, they're in deserts, they've evolved many exotic mating behaviors, and they're capable of incredibly long-distance flights.
If flies are a great model, they're a great model for flies. These animals, you know, they're not like us. We don't fly. We don't have a compound eye. I don't think we process sensory information the same way. The muscles that they use are just incredibly much more sophisticated and interesting than the muscles we use.
For many years in my laboratory and other laboratories around the world, we've been studying fly behaviors in little flight simulators. You can tether a fly to a little stick. You can measure the aerodynamic forces it's creating. You can let the fly play a little video game by letting it fly around in a visual display.
Like many insects, flies are most sensitive to green light. This means that they would see their world as 'black and white,' in that they can't see the multiple colors required to reconstruct a color image of the world. They do, however, have specialized cells that enable them to see ultraviolet wavelengths.