Dr. Brigitte Howarth, the fly specialist at Zayed University in the United Arab Emirates, has discovered a species of fruit fly that appears to have pictures of ants emblazoned on its wings. Dr. Howarth came across the odd insect while digging through an oleander shrub in Oman, at first she had suspected an infestation on the fly’s wings but at closer glance the pattern was far too intricate.
The naturally appearing tattoo serves as a defense system and possible aids in finding a mate as well.
When threatened, the fly flashes its wings to give the appearance of ants walking back and forth. The predator gets confused and the fly zips off.
This defence mechanism may also make the fly attractive to potential mates – something that is less of a concern for the average housefly.
“A lot of flies, if a male sees a female that is suitable it just flies up and tries to latch on,” said Dr Howarth. But G tridens has an altogether more amorous courtship, showing off its wings in a colourful dance. And Dr Howarth believes it is no exception.
“If you look at the behaviour, it tells you a lot about the functionality,” said Dr Howarth. “Not everybody gets to mate. The ones that do have something about them that make them more attractive.
“Is it the same in other invertebrates, who knows? It’s very possible that those are in fact for courtship behaviour.”
This elaborate behaviour may be a response to the fly’s restrictive environment. “Something that can survive anywhere doesn’t need to have as many protection factors,” said Dr Howarth.
The more realistic the picture on the wing, the better its chance of survival and reproduction.