How do Fruit Flies find your Wine Glass?

Wine, a fruit fly magnet
Wine, a fruit fly magnet

The warming weather and the outdoor patio wine drinking season starting signals the start of many little pests springing out of nowhere.

Uncork a bottle of your favourite raspberry wine outside in the summer and odds are good an annoying fruit fly will find your glass by the time the glass finds your lips. Turns out, this party crasher navigates using mathematical rules that maximize the chances it will locate your drink.

“Wine is extraordinarily attractive to them,” said the new study’s co-author Mark Frye of UCLA. “I wouldn’t be surprised if the animal came from half a kilometre away.”

Scientists have known that fruit flies (Drosophila melanogaster) use visual cues to make quick turns and prevent nasty collisions with nearby objects.

“So we knew what was causing a fly to steer when it got close to things,” Frye said. The new study, published in the April issue of the journal PLoS ONE, reveals what they did not know: why the flies make swift twists and turns when out in the middle of nowhere, far away from obstacles.

Frye and his colleague, Andy Reynolds of Rothamsted Research in England, used two video cameras to track fruit flies in dome-like enclosures, at the bottom of which they hid an odour source. Inside the enclosure, each fly made a bunch of 90-degree turns followed by a longer straight path.

“With all of those small turns they search the local vicinity and then make a foray to move away and then they search that local vicinity again and make a foray,” Frye told LiveScience.

An analysis of the paths showed the flies followed a tried-and-true method for sniffing out the odour.

“Their strategy is trying to optimize two things,” Frye said. “They want to detect something that’s very faint, and they want to move around enough that they don’t get stuck in one place where there aren’t any good smells.”

The fly’s seemingly erratic flight paths match up with a mathematical algorithm called Lévy’s distribution, which optimizes the chances of finding a tasty snack.

In wine production, preventing fruit flies from invading your winery and when they do, getting rid of them is a constant battle. The tiniest spill or drop of wine on the floor or on a wine valve can mean an onslaught of a fruit fly colony.

There are many ways to get rid of this problem.

The key to controlling fruit fly infestations is to locate and eliminate their breeding sources. A lot of good information on this subject is available here.

Not only are they annoying to have around but also more importantly they are a prime cause of acetic acid (vinegar) contamination in wine so the cliché of a very clear winery is next to godliness is very true in this industry.

If you want to delve in deeper and find out all the proven ways to get rid of flies, this ultimate guide will provide all the information you need. An excellent source of knowledge!

Enjoy your wine, hopefully fruit fly free!

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