, Volume 169, Issue 4, pp 451-459

A visually evoked escape response of the housefly

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Summary

Flies (Musca domestica) avoid danger by initiating a rapid jump followed by flight. To identify the visual cues that trigger the escape response in the housefly, we measured the timing and probability of escapes when the fly was presented with a variety of visual stimuli created by moving targets toward it. Our results show that an escape response is triggered by an approaching dark disk, but not by a receding dark disk. On the other hand, a bright disk elicits escape only when it recedes. A disk with black and white rings is less effective at eliciting escape than is a dark solid disk of the same size. This indicates that the darkening contrast produced by an approaching stimulus is a more crucial parameter than expansion cues contained in the optical flow. Escape is also triggered by a horizontally moving dark edge, but not by a moving bright edge or by a grating. An examination of several visual parameters reveals that the darkening contrast, measured from the onset of stimulation to the start of escape is nearly constant for a variety of stimuli that trigger escape reliably. Thus darkening contrast, coupled with motion may be crucial in eliciting the visually evoked escape response. Other visual parameters such as time-to-contact or target angular velocity seem to be relatively unimportant to the timing of escapes.