NPMA Tips: Fruit Flies and Fighter Jets


June 12, 2014

Jim FredericksAdapt high-speed research for low-tech control methods

In April, scientists from the University of Washington published new research detailing the speed at which fruit flies move during flight to avoid danger. Using high-speed video cameras operating at 7,500 frames per second, biologists revealed fruit flies flying almost upside down and making banked turns, while flapping their wings 200 times per second to escape danger. The researchers likened the flies’ rolling banked turns to the maneuvers performed by fighter pilots.

Even more amazing than the aerial acrobatics performed by these flies is the sheer speed at which they alter their course. The fruit flies in the study (Drosophila hydei) were able to process visual stimuli and make directional changes in less than one-hundredth of a second.

Even before these discoveries pest management professionals (PMPs) have known trying to control flies while they’re on the wing is a fruitless endeavor. Volumetric aerosol or fog applications might result in a temporary knockdown of adult flies, but before long, populations rebound, resulting in callbacks and unhappy clients.

Traps and lures can reduce populations and provide insight to where fruit flies are abundant; but to gain control in accounts such as restaurants or bars, technicians need to work with clients to identify breeding locations and remove the fermenting organic matter in which the developing larvae live and feed.

Much of the fruit fly’s success can be attributed to its biology. The speed at which fruit flies are able to complete their life cycle has a significant effect on management efforts. A female fruit fly is able to produce hundreds of eggs in her short 40- to 50-day lifespan. Fruit flies require only seven to 10 days to develop from eggs to adults, so suppressed adult populations quickly rebound.

Diligent technicians provide comprehensive inspection with sanitation recommendations for clients. Cleaning organic matter from drains, floor mats, cracks and crevices, and under and behind equipment, is the key to eliminating the larval food source and gaining the upper hand on fruit fly infestations.
The groundbreaking information revealed by reseachers was the result of filming fruit fly flight. Likewise, PMPs can educate clients about the importance of sanitation using the cameras on their smartphone.

A tech that tells a restaurant manager decaying organic material needs to be cleaned might find the recommendation falls on deaf ears, but when photos are provided, clients see the problem and understand exactly what needs to be done and why. pmp


You can reach Dr. Fredericks, technical director for the National Pest Management Association (NPMA), at


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