skip to main content
caption: Flies have the fastest visual systems of any animal in the world.
Enlarge Icon
Flies have the fastest visual systems of any animal in the world.

Why it’s so hard to swat a fly

It’s springtime which means sunshine, picnics and flies. But this episode might make you think twice about reaching for that fly swatter. Flies are amazing creatures that have the fastest visual systems in the world, use gyroscopes for precision flying, and can see almost 360 degrees.

To understand why a fly is so unique, just look into their eyes. A fly has two large eyes that cover most of their head. Each eye consists of at least 3,000 individual lenses called ommatidia. With all of these “simple eyes” flies can’t focus on a single object like we do. Instead, they see the world as a kind of mosaic. This makes them really good at spotting quick moving objects like a fly swatter. And their field of view is almost a full 360 degrees. So no use sneaking up from behind.

Dr. Michael Dickinson is a bio-engineer and neuroscientist at Cal Tech and a leading expert on American flies. On this episode he shares his love for flies and explains what makes them so special - from their eyes to their lightning fast neurological systems.

So next time you might want to reach for that magnifying glass rather than the fly swatter - you'll be amazed at what you see.

Recommended links from Chris Morgan:

Dickinson Lab

Michael Dickinson: How a fly flies

Understanding the neurological code behind how flies fly

The Lab: Gwyneth Card + Escape Behavior

THE WILD is a production of KUOW in Seattle in partnership with Chris Morgan and Wildlife Media. It is produced by Matt Martin and edited by Jim Gates. It is hosted, produced and written by Chris Morgan. Fact checking by Apryle Craig. Our theme music is by Michael Parker.