Flying the fly: long-range flight behavior of Drosophila melanogaster to attractive odors

J Chem Ecol. 2010 Jun;36(6):599-607. doi: 10.1007/s10886-010-9794-2. Epub 2010 May 2.


The fruit fly, Drosophila melanogaster Meigen (Diptera: Drosophilidae), is a model for how animals sense, discriminate, and respond to chemical signals. However, with D. melanogaster our knowledge of the behavioral activity of olfactory receptor ligands has relied largely on close-range attraction, rather than on long-range orientation behavior. We developed a flight assay to relate chemosensory perception to behavior. Headspace volatiles from vinegar attracted 62% of assayed flies during a 15-min experimental period. Flies responded irrespective of age, sex, and mating state, provided they had been starved. To identify behaviorally relevant chemicals from vinegar, we compared the responses to vinegar and synthetic chemicals. Stimuli were applied by a piezoelectric sprayer at known and constant release rates. Re-vaporized methanol extracts of Super Q-trapped vinegar volatiles attracted as many flies as vinegar. The main volatile component of vinegar, acetic acid, elicited significant attraction as a single compound. Two other vinegar volatiles, 2-phenyl ethanol and acetoin, produced a synergistic effect when added to acetic acid. Geosmin, a microbiological off-flavor, diminished attraction to vinegar. This wind tunnel assay based on a conspicuous and unambiguous behavioral response provides the necessary resolution for the investigation of physiologically and ecologically relevant odors and will become an essential tool for the functional analysis of the D. melanogaster olfactory system.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Acetic Acid / chemistry
  • Acetic Acid / pharmacology
  • Age Factors
  • Animals
  • Behavior, Animal* / drug effects
  • Drosophila melanogaster / drug effects
  • Drosophila melanogaster / physiology*
  • Flight, Animal
  • Naphthols / pharmacology
  • Odorants*
  • Sex Factors
  • Volatilization


  • Naphthols
  • geosmin
  • Acetic Acid