March 27, 2014 - Scientists from the UK and Switzerland have used very intense X-rays to film inside an insect's body as it flies.
The resulting footage - a 3D reconstruction made up of several X-ray
snapshots - shows a blowfly's flight
motor, the "muscles and hinges" that power flight.
Researchers say the insights could be useful for the design of micro air vehicles.
The results are published in the journal Plos Biology.
Dr Simon Walker
from the University of Oxford's animal flight group, first author of the research, explained that the team used very fast, intense X-rays to record the extremely rapid movements. In the time that it takes a human to blink, a blowfly can beat its wings 50 times.
"The X-rays were also focused on to a very small area, which was necessary to achieve high-resolution of such a small object," Dr Walker told BBC News. "The blowfly thorax is about 4mm long."
The scientists tethered the tiny fly to a vertical mount, which they rotated as the insect was X-rayed.
"Flies have an automatic response so that when their feet leave the ground they start flying," Dr Walker explained. "We also had a small air blower around the insect, which provides a continued stimulus so that they continued flying during the recording."
By combining rapid snapshots of the insect's body, the researchers produced a 3D reconstruction of a blowfly in flight.