Students study dancing flies for summer research

You might not think summer research has anything to do with flies and dancing, but at Cornell College–it does.

“A lot of the flies do weird things,” said Bryan Hernandez ’18. “A lot of them are just kind of trying to impress the female. They are flinging out their wings backwards.”

Hernandez is one of five students on Cornell’s campus working with Professor Marty Condon to examine the unique dancing flies.  Julia Thome ’18,  Andrew Joseph ’17, Anne Weitekamp ’18, and recent high school graduate, James Cummings, are all taking part in the research this summer. 

They’re studying the evolutionary biology of the flies to better understand and discover how the diverse species, from Central and South America, came into existence. 

“Evolutionary biologists are curious about this amazing diversity of life on earth,” Professor Condon said. “The work we are doing, we are discovering diversity that nobody has ever discovered before, and tropical forests are disappearing. So, this is a basic knowledge problem. We are losing diversity very quickly, and we are trying to discover what’s there before it’s gone.”

This summer, the team is focusing on studying the flies’ behaviors, especially their courtship dancing behaviors. Students are looking through videos, digging through data, and working in the lab on DNA sequencing.

“You can sometimes see that a fly may be a different species by the way they dance. However, most of these flies are cryptic species, which means that you can’t really tell them apart by looking at them,” Joseph said.

Watch their full video story here: