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11 November 2009

The Secret Life of Fruit Flies

Fruit flies linger over a bowl of rotting fruit. To untrained eyes, the flies may look like a swarming nuisance, but scientists have found that flies’ swoops and buzzes are ways to send signals through the crowd. Another, less obvious way these insects communicate is through chemical signals called pheromones. (It’s easy to think of these chemical signals as being similar to smells.) Scientists have long known that pheromones may play an important role in reproduction — certain pheromones may attract a potential mate, for example. But in a surprising new study, scientists found that male fruit flies are particularly attracted to other flies — male and female — that don’t put out any pheromones at all.

Strange Attraction from Science News on Vimeo.

The researchers also found that fruit flies without pheromones are attractive to males of other species. This research suggests that pheromones may be even more complicated — and important — than scientists thought. Besides telling other insects to come a little closer, pheromones may also be used to say, “Back off!” That message is important for keeping up barriers between species. There are many different types of fruit flies, no matter how similar they all look as they swarm over a rotting tomato. Scientists have wondered how fruit flies can tell each other apart. Appearance may play a role. So may sound — the mating song of each different kind of fruit fly is different, for example. Source: Sciencenews.org

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