How to Kill a Fly, and Other Difficult Questions

I complained to my husband Ralph that flies are hard to swat, and asked him why he can do it, and I can’t. It’s a blow to my independence to have to ask for help. I wanted to know if it is because he’s a more patient person than I am, and he patiently explained to me

 There’s a trick to it. Flies have to jump to fly. First they jump off the surface they’re on, then they can start to fly. The trick is to wait until the fly is busy rubbing its hands together, then go for it. That slight delay of having to put it’s hands down before it can launch off the surface and fly keeps it from flying away before you kill it.

My apologies to any Buddhists reading this. I have not spiritually evolved beyond killing insects (although I do first try to get them to fly back outside).

Research shows flies have legs, they don’t really have hands. But they do, for biological reasons, rub their legs to eliminate any dirt that might alter their sensors, which are used to determine what is food. Ralph is correct on that. (1)

Flies have precise vision, can see at a 360 degree angle (can see behind them), and process information from eye to brain faster than humans, all of which makes it hard to sneak up on them. To them, we are moving in slow motion. So even though they don’t fly fast, they are hard to swat. I am correct on that. (1)

Researchers Michael Dickinson and Gwyneth Card have determined the secret to a fly’s evasive maneuvering. (2)

Long before the fly leaps, its tiny brain calculates the location of the impending threat, comes up with an escape plan, and places its legs in an optimal position to hop out of the way in the opposite direction. All of this action takes place within about 100 milliseconds after the fly first spots the swatter.


This research leads to an optimal method for accurately swatting a fly. “It is best not to swat at the fly’s starting position, but rather to aim a bit forward of that to anticipate where the fly is going to jump when it first sees your swatter.” (2)

But do they need to jump to start flying? Dickinson did say they hop, but didn’t specify that as a precondition for flying. Further online research reports did not yield a specific answer to this question before I ran out of patience with clicking and reading.

“There’s a trick to it.” I feel like there’s a lot of life that’s like this. Despite my best efforts, my diligence, my willingness – there’s some small piece of information I just don’t know that keeps success out of reach. How to wake up happy, how to get shit done, how to train a reactive dog to not react, how to be cheerful and enthusiastic about a carb-free diet, how to clean house without getting sidetracked, how to while away the hours daydreaming without feeling I should have been ‘productive’, how to keep plants alive. These are questions I’d like to answer, but I don’t have the patience or focus to wade through a bajillion hits on Google to find out.



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