A small fly the size of a grain of rice could be the Top Gun of the fly world, with a remarkable ability to detect and intercept its prey mid-air, changing direction mid-flight if necessary before sweeping round for the kill.

The robber fly Holcocephala is a relatively small fly – at 6mm in length, it is similar in size of the average mosquito. Yet it has the ability to spot and catch prey more than half a metre away in less than half a second – by comparison to its size, this would be the equivalent of a human spotting its prey at the other end of a football pitch. Even if the prey changes direction, the predator is able to adapt mid-air and still catch its prey.

An international team led by researchers from the University of Cambridge was able to capture this activity by tricking the fly into launching itself at a fake prey – in fact, just a small bead on a fishing line. This enabled the team to witness the fly’s remarkable aerial attack strategy. Their findings are published today in the journal Current Biology.

To read more, see our article on Medium.

See the world through the eyes of a robber fly in the Plant and Life Sciences Marquee at the Cambridge Science Festival, Saturday 18 March 2017.

Wardill, TJ et al. A novel interception strategy in a miniature robber fly with extreme visual acuity; Current Biology; 9 March 2017; DOI: 10.1016/j.cub.2017.01.050

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