Anyone who’s wielded a rolled-up newspaper to combat a housefly knows just how evasive the bug can be. Flies always seem to know where you’re coming from—and how to get away.

“Flies are incredibly good at what they do,” says Michael Dickinson, a professor of biology at the University of Washington. To study the insects in action, Dickinson coaxed flies through a tube that opened onto a tiny platform. Over this stage, a disc loomed, ready to flatten the flies from various directions—front, side, and back—while a high-speed camera filmed the insects’ reactions to the impending attack.