Image of the Day: Upside-Down Landings

Blue bottle flies use many different movements and a specific behavior sequence in order to stick a ceiling landing.

Oct 29, 2019
Emily Makowski

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lue bottle flies (Calliphora vomitoria) use a diverse set of movements to successfully land on a ceiling, according to a study published in Science Advances October 23. Bo Cheng, a mechanical engineer at Penn State University, and colleagues took high-speed video of flies in a flight chamber to study the animals’ sensorimotor processes as they landed on the top of the chamber. The team found that unlike fruit flies, which only rotate their bodies slightly while touching down, blue bottle flies use a wider variety of pitching (tilting the body up or down headfirst) and rolling movements. These movements change depending on the speed and angle of the fly as it approaches a ceiling.

Blue bottle flies making pitch-dominated (top), roll-dominated (center), and combined pitch-roll (bottom) landings
BO CHENG AND PAN Liu










Not all flies completed the tricky maneuver, but those that did had a specific sequence of behavior. First, they accelerated upward and began to rotate while extending their front legs. Then, they planted their legs firmly on the surface of the chamber while twisting their bodies into position.

The results could have implications for the development of tiny flying robots, allowing “small-animal or robotic systems with limited computational resources to generate fast yet complex behaviors,” the authors write in the paper.

P. Liu et al., “Flies land upside down on a ceiling using rapid visually mediated rotational maneuvers,” Sci Adv, 10.1126/sciadv.aax1877, 2019.

Emily Makowski is an intern at The Scientist. Email her at emakowski@the-scientist.com