Monday, July 3, 2017

Escape behavior depends on the size of danger: case study in the fruit fly

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Fruit fly, Drosophila Melanogaster 

The fruit fly can produce two escape behaviors: a long, careful take off and a short, quick escape flight, which requires in flight maneuvering to achieve proper flight position. In the long take off, the flight first extends it wings, and jumps off the ground, while starting to fly. The whole maneuver lasts about 22ms. In the short take off, the fly just jumps with folded wings into the air. While in the air, it must take time to righting itself and its wings to achieve proper flight position, a process that takes only 6 ms. If the predator is slow, the fly chooses the long take off, because it provides more stability. However, if the predator is fast, the fly is more likely to choose short take off, in order to quickly escape.

In the fly's brain neurons code parallel for both looming velocity and for looming size. The proper response can emerge automatically, because of the parallel processing of the two signals. For example slow looming velocity and small looming size will always produce long take off, whereas fast looming velocity and large looming size always produces short take off. However, sensory experience that contain mixed signals  will produce a probability response between being either short or long take off. Parallel sensory processing and linear regulation occurs very often in the living world and often leads to complex behavior. In emotional animals, mammals and birds, complexity is greatly enhanced due to memories, which allows learning, and engenders nonlinear regulation of behavior.  Surprisingly, emotional behavior can be mathematically best described by the  equations of quantum mechanics. Coincidence? 

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