You see it in movies all the time, and life seems to reinforce cinematic views of fly vision. It often seems like flies can see everywhere when you try and kill them, but do flies have 360 degree vision?
Compared to humans, flies see in a whole new world
Everything that flies see actually appears much different than they do to us. It’s hard to imagine the color blue being different than the color blue that we are familiar with, for example, but flies interpret things like shapes, colors, light, and even movement different that we perceive them as humans.
As humans, we can create depth perception by using both of our eyes. We can see with both individually, but when we use them at the same time it gives us better visual perception.
With flies, they have a special kind of eye that is considered a compound eye. This means their eyes are actually thousands of tiny “eyes” that all work in conjunction together.
The thing with humans compared to flies is we can only concentrate and see one specific thing at a time – that which we choose to look at. Flies however, are able to see many things all at the same time.
Flies can’t look around and focus in on different things like we do; they simply take in all things from each receptor all at the same time.
No pupils, No problem
Another thing that humans have that flies don’t is pupils. In humans, this regulates the incoming light into your eyes. Without pupils and the ability to control the incoming light, flies can’t really focus on what they see.
This gives flies the option of really only being able to see things a short distance away from them. Have you ever gotten extremely close to a fly trying to slap it only to have them dart away at the last second? That’s because you got in their vision path as you got closer so it was easy for them to see you coming.
Another reason why flies seem to be so skittish is that while they do have nearly 360 degree vision, it isn’t very clear what they are seeing. They most often have no idea what is coming into their field of vision so it could be dangerous or harmless, unfortunately for them, they have no idea, so most flies tend to be safe than sorry. If they don’t have that built-in tendency, they end up as a fly pancake.
Flies are also somewhat color blind
As stated above, flies have a hard time seeing colors. They are a little bit different than humans who are color blind. In human eyes, we have rods and cones. These rods and cones have different forms and some can take in various colors of the light spectrum.
When humans are color blind, some of these cones and rods don’t work as they should so colors don’t appear as they truly should. With fly’s eyes, it works a bit differently.
Since fly eyes are a bit more basic with each receptor, they can see only a couple of different wavelengths of light making some colors not appear at all to them, such as red.
Overall, flies don’t have 100% perfect 360 degree vision, but close to it. Unfortunately, their vision isn’t anything near as quality as we have as humans and it is usually quite blurry and lacks much of the differentiation of colors and form. The good news for flies is that most of their food sources are either dead or immobile, so it’s okay for them to fumble around a bit before they get to their next meal.
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