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Some creatures play dead, but lowly housefly isn't one

By C. CLAIBORNE RAY The New York Times

This article was published August 4, 2014 at 2:34 a.m.


Ron Wolfe Fly

Q: Can a fly play dead?

A: Some species of fly are adapted to feign dropping dead as a way to avoid a threat, and several other insects and spiders also show this behavior, although the common housefly is much more likely to use its lightning-fast reflexes and fly away.

A housefly that has been stunned by a glancing swat may appear to be playing dead but may just be recovering from a temporary stupor.

Faking death, which scientists call thanatosis, occurs across the spectrum of animals, reported in some mammals, birds, snakes and fish as well as in insects. Among insects, it has also been observed in certain beetles, cicadas, crickets, stick insects, mantises, odonates (an order of carnivorous insects that includes dragonflies), lepidopterans (the large order that includes butterflies and moths) and wasps.

When the wasp Nasonia vitripennis is faking death, "an individual falls onto its back, pulls in its limbs and antennas and becomes immobile for a few seconds before righting itself," a 2006 study in The Journal of Insect Behavior says.

Thanatosis in insects appears to show a negative genetic correlation with flying ability, according to a 2007 study of different strains of the adzuki bean beetle, Callosobruchus chinensis, in The Proceedings of the Royal Society B. After eight generations, the genetic strains with the longest periods of death-feigning were the poorer fliers, while the strains with higher flying ability feigned death for shorter periods.

ActiveStyle on 08/04/2014

Print Headline: Some creatures play dead, but lowly housefly isn’t one


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