Research Highlights: In Still Air, Fruit Flies Can Travel 12 Kilometers in a Single Flight

By Sanjay Acharya – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,

In Still Air, Fruit Flies Can Travel 12 Kilometers in a Single Flight

  • In insects, long-distance dispersal has ecological importance.
  • Advanced molecular techniques are widely available however, the mechanistic basis of long-distance dispersal is not well understood in genetic model species.
  • Researchers question how insects interact with the wind to identify attractive odor and increase their movement distance as they disperse.
  • To study dispersal, researchers carry out an experiment in the Mojave Desert using fruit flies.
  • The setup includes baited traps in a 1-kilometer radius ring around the release site.
  • Cameras were used to capture the arrival times of flies as they landed.
  • Researchers released between 30,000 and 200,000 flies for each experiment.
  • Researchers quantified the influence of winds on the flies’ dispersal behavior.
  • Data confirmed that a tiny fruit fly can disperse about 12 kilometers in a single flight in still air.
  • Fruit fly may even travel many more times in a moderate wind.
  • The model accounts for the observation that flies actively fan out in all directions.
  • However, the flies are increasingly advected downwind as the wind intensifies.
  • The results suggest that dispersing insects may strike a balance between the need to cover large distances while still maintaining the chance of intercepting odor plumes from upwind sources.


Leitch KJ, Ponce FV, Dickson WB, van Breugel F, Dickinson MH. The long-distance flight behavior of Drosophila supports an agent-based model for wind-assisted dispersal in insects. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2021 Apr 27;118(17):e2013342118. doi: 10.1073/pnas.2013342118. PMID: 33879607

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