Study Explores How Fruit Flies Navigate Unstable Convective Air

By Greg Watry

Drosophila melanogaster

The fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster lives in deserts and also urban environments with many hot surfaces and resulting air currents. (Photo: Sanjay Acharya)

When insects migrate over vast distances, many take advantage of a natural phenomenon called thermal convection, which causes flow movement when air at different temperatures interact. Hitching a ride on invisible rollercoasters called convection cells, insects—like aphids and spiders—follow the flow of warm air upwards and cold air downwards.

“They are floating up to 3,000 feet,” said Victor Ortega-Jimenez, an assistant project scientist in the Combes Lab at UC Davis, of this movement. “All these clouds of insects are floating up there and moving in these convection cell patterns.”

Elastic Slingshot Powers Snipefish Feeding

The snipefish, an ocean-dwelling relative of the seahorse, has a very long, skinny snout ending in a tiny mouth. A recent study by UC Davis graduate student Sarah Longo shows that snipefish feed with an elastic-boosted head flick at almost unprecedented speed.

“At as little as two milliseconds, it’s among the fastest feeding events ever recorded for fish,” said Longo, now a postdoctoral researcher at Duke University.

Snipefish, seahorses and pipefish all have long, skinny snouts and use “pivot feeding” to capture food, Longo said, meaning that they pivot their head rapidly to bring their mouth up close to the prey and suck it in.

Podcast: New Insight on Spinal Injuries

Spinal injuries are life-changing, and it used to be thought that recovery of limb movement below the injury was impossible. But new research is showing that with the right therapies, the body can find ways to work around spinal injuries. Professor Karen Moxon of the UC Davis Department of Biomedical Engineering talks about her work with rats and how they can recover from injury.

Listen: Three Minute Egghead: New Insight on Spinal Injuries (Soundcloud)

More information

Working Around Spinal Injuries (News release)

Cortex-dependent recovery of unassisted hindlimb locomotion after complete spinal cord injury in adult rats (eLife)