Tiny, fast and deadly

Robber fly
This is a two-photon image of the Holcocephala head showing the enlarged frontal facets.
Credit: Sam Fabian

The robber fly, a tiny insect just 6 milimetres long, puts fighter pilots to shame, research reveals.

Making use of the several thousand lenses that comprise its compound eyes, it is able to spot, identify, lock on, pursue and catch its prey – changing direction if necessary – covering half a metre in less than half a second. To put that in human terms, that’s like standing at one end of a football pitch, suddenly seeing rabbit at the other end, and catching it before it has time to hop.

There are several species of robber fly, all belonging in to the genus Holcocephala. Researchers led by Dr Paloma Gonzalez-Bellido of Cambridge University’s Department of Physiology, Development and Neuroscience, used ultra-high-speed photography to record the fly’s hunting behavior.

The lenses in robber fly compound eyes are unusual because they have many different focal lengths, allowing the insect to see clearly over multiple distances and in varying in light conditions. The research is published in journal Current Biology.

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