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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Animal Note/Wake-up Call

Air Date: Week of

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Living on Earth’s Maggie Villiger reports on new research on the chemical ways fruit flies can influence one another's circadian clocks.


CURWOOD: Just ahead, how one Amazonian Indian tribe held off the oil companies with help from the son of a preacher man.

First this page from the animal notebook with Maggie Villiger.


VILLIGER: It can be hard for night owls and early birds to live together in close quarters since their circadian rhythms are out of whack. But maybe compromise is possible, at least in the world of fruit flies.

Scientists know that social factors can affect biological clocks. Now researchers are narrowing in on how fruit flies can influence their buddies to wake up and get going. They observed that flies living in groups tend to be most active during the same periods, even when they’re kept in total darkness so they don’t know whether it’s night or day. Somehow the tiny bugs were communicating with each other and synching their internal clocks. Researchers wanted to figure out how, so they blew air through two habitats, one containing flies and the other one empty. Air that wafted through the vial full of flies, what the scientists called “fly air” was then pumped into the living space of flies who were living alone. Something in that fly air was able to match up the solo flies’ clocks with those of the group, even though they had no physical contact with each other.

Researchers think the flies use some kind of chemosensory cue that flows through the air and synchs up their clocks, and they suspect an olfactory signal is the trigger, since flies with a mutation that gives them a poor sense of smell were not affected by the so-called fly air.

That’s this week’s animal note. I’m Maggie Villiger

CURWOOD: And you’re listening to Living on Earth.

[MUSIC: Ekova, “Taksim” HEAVEN’S DUST (Six Degrees, 1998)]



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