NPR interviewed Michael Dickinson about his work with fly behavior (audio and video here). According to NPR's Joe Palca, Dickinson found that these pesky little critters:
"...perform an elegant little ballet with their legs. They move their legs around to reposition their bodies so that when they do jump, they will push themselves away from the looming threat."
That ballet appears to give them a critical edge in escaping the swatter.
Dickinson says what's remarkable about this body position is how fast it happens. In less than a 10th of a second, the fly has to perceive the threat using its eyes, determine what direction it's coming from, and then make the appropriate movement with its legs so it jumps in the right direction. And all this is accomplished by a brain that's the size of a poppy seed.
"When you see a fly flitting around your hair, or your potato salad, you might see an annoyance," he says. "But in my lab you really see a marvelous machine, arguably the most sophisticated flying device on the planet."
Wow. More sophisticated, even, than aircraft designed by intelligent engineers?! Hmmmmm.RLC