These creatures are often viewed as an annoyance or pest. In fact, my house often has infestations of black flies in the summer.
But, as pesky as they are, flies are also vital to the food chain of spiders, bats, and birds, and nearly every other ecosystem on the planet. So, in light of their importance in the natural world, today I want to ask what can we learn from flies from a biomimicry standpoint?
Though most people find them disgusting, I have actually always been intrigued by the flies' mouth shape and design (I mean they're still gross but in a cool way). Once the mouth opens a soft tube-like organ emerges. This consists of a fleshy called thelabium, which can be moved and bent. At the end of the labium are a pair of sponge-like organs called the labella. The labella had many grooves, called pseudo trachea, which sops up liquids like a sponge. Salivary secretions from the labella assist in dissolving and collecting food particles so that they may be more easily taken up by the pseudo trachea using capillary action. The liquid food is then drawn up from the pseudo tracheae through the food channel into the esophagus. While slightly gross I think this would be a neat sustainable model for a vacuum cleaner or mop that would use capillary action instead of electricity to capture particles. It would be green, efficient, and if planned and modeled right, nearly guaranteed to work.
Fly feet have their uses as well. Fly feet consist of two small claws and two "sticky" pads. These pads are very similar to gecko feet in that they are covered in tiny hairs called tenant setae that allow them to cling to surfaces through Van Der Waals interactions. By using this same mechanism gloves and shoes could be developed with millions of tiny hairs to assist rock climbers, or simply workers who need to keep a firm grip on their tools. Shoes could be developed for track runners that instead of using spikes to create friction they could use fly feet, honestly the possibilities are endless.
The fly eye, like many other insects, has many smaller eyes within it. Each “eye” is its own receptor or ommatidia. Each has a lens, a light detecting cone, a pigment cell and a neural receptor. Each ommatidia contributes a small portion to the fly’s vision, the more ommatidia the higher the resolution of the image. I think this is an amazing way to create an eye, and it makes me wonder what this principle could be used for. Perhaps cameras could utilize this to create higher resolution images, or perhaps this could be a way to make cameras even smaller without loosing performance.
Ok, so weirdly I couldn’t find any satisfactory videos about flies; I guess the whole Internet thinks they’re gross. However, I did find an amazing video clip from the BBC nature program Life about Venus Fly Traps, which has some very good close up images of the structures I’ve been talking about.
I feel bad for those poor bugs; their little buzzing was so panicky! But it’s the circle of life. And despite these little guys’ grizzly ends in the video, I still think flies are a good source of inspiration for biomimicry. So instead of thinking of flies as pests the next time you see them, think about how much of a resource they could be!