Thanks to a “compass ring” in the brain cells, fruit flies are able to fly in the dark, discovered researchers.
Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Janelia Research Campus researchers in Virginia revealed they were able to witness the “compass” in action.
The scientist peered into the brain of a fly, by the use of a microscope, walking a spherical treadmill and saw the sweeping of brain activity around the ring of cell to correspond with the direction which they are headed, the journal Nature reported.
When the lights are switched off with the fly left in the dark, the doughnut-shaped ring where the activity, which is likened to a compass in the brain cells continues.
VivekJayaraman, the senior study author said, “The fly uses a sense of its own motion to pick up which direction it’s pointed.”
By understanding the navigational process of flies in the surroundings can aid in understanding how humans do it, said the researchers.
Insects like locusts and butterflies brain cells react to the insects’ position with regards to the polarized light in the sky, which in effect creates a “sun compass.”
But in the case of the fruit fly’s compass, considering that it functions in the dark as well, like a “head direction cells” found in mammals, which determines the directional navigation base on landmark perceived in the local setting, the researchers say.
Those cells in mammals are sprinkled all over the brain, while on the fly, they are concentrated in an area of the brain known as the ellipsoid body, which is circular in shape, just like a compass.