frozen fly
October 26, 2005 5:57 PM   Subscribe

I just closed a fly into my freezer. If I find it and thaw it out, will it reanimate?
posted by StickyCarpet to Pets & Animals (37 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Not after it stops breathing and its nervous center is deprived of oxygen for too long. Just like person.
posted by Miko at 5:58 PM on October 26, 2005

I am guessing no. What else can I freeze and thaw back to life?
posted by StickyCarpet at 5:59 PM on October 26, 2005

I've seen flies frozen over the winter for months that have thawed out fine in the spring. I think it would come back if you didn't squish it, of course.
posted by chuma at 6:01 PM on October 26, 2005

I think so. There used to be a kids game where you'd knock flies out in the freezer, glue thread to them, and then reanimate them.
posted by kalimac at 6:22 PM on October 26, 2005

I've heard that in ice fishing, if one throws a live fish on the ice and it freezes near instantly, it will (sometimes, rarely...not sure, but a friend witnessed this) swim back to life if dropped back in...
posted by jikel_morten at 6:22 PM on October 26, 2005

Freezing a fly in a necessary step towards building your own fly-powered model aircraft.
posted by glibhamdreck at 6:26 PM on October 26, 2005

It *can*. I think the determining point is freezer burn (which is also the problem with human suspended animation) ... the fluid inside the being's cells will expand, bursting the cell walls. All you've got left of the less-durable cells when you thaw it is a puddle of goop.
posted by SpecialK at 6:28 PM on October 26, 2005

Yes, it will.
posted by dobbs at 6:47 PM on October 26, 2005

Time for you to perform some scientific experiments Dr. Frankenstien. Please report back with your findings.
posted by caddis at 6:54 PM on October 26, 2005

I used to do this with bees when I was a kid. I didn't take notes or anything, but I'd guess we had a ~80% recovery rate.
posted by mr_roboto at 7:08 PM on October 26, 2005

My uncle used to raise worms for fishing that we kept in the freezer that would come back to life when thawed. I remember being endlessly fascinated by them when I was 11. I believe they were meal worms.
posted by wsg at 7:25 PM on October 26, 2005 [1 favorite]

This is also an area of intensive research for humans- trying to preserve human body parts (and evetuall humans altogether? hello, evil Mr. Snipes in 50 years) via freezing. The problem is that with such think tissue and body parts in humans, it is very hard to freeze given body part all the way through withough damaging said body part in the process. This is in part due to the fact that freezing causes the tissue to expand thus damaging the surrounding tissue in the process (don't ask me why this doesn't happen with flies). I've been told that one idea is that by using a very low temperature (think absolute zero), this problem can be avoided. Why, I'm not sure.
This is what someone in the fielf of bio-freezing told me a while back, so I'm sure someone out there more qualified might have something to say.
posted by jmd82 at 8:16 PM on October 26, 2005

I know some people use that method to "humanely" kill pet hamsters. But I remember someone telling me they opened the freezer and the hamster jumped (fell) on them or something. It probably hadn't frozen yet, though.
posted by acoutu at 8:30 PM on October 26, 2005

A little off topic, but the arctic ground squirrel when hibernating caqn have its body temperature drop to less than freezing, down to -2 or -3 celsius. Pretty amazing.
posted by Rumple at 9:07 PM on October 26, 2005

I know some people use that method to "humanely" kill pet hamsters.

Sorry for the digression, but can anyone explain how freezing a hamster is humane? I mean, it seems to drag things out quite a bit as opposed to, say, a split-second encouter with something sharp and heavy. But maybe there's something about hamsters I don't understand.
posted by transient at 9:08 PM on October 26, 2005

Sorta related... Catch a fly in your hand and hold it underwater til it stops moving, careful not to squish it. Put it on a plate, then cover it completely with a mound of salt. In about 30 seconds, it'll crawl out of the salt.

posted by LordSludge at 9:18 PM on October 26, 2005

a mediterranean fruit fly can be frozen for three minutes. After that, too late.
posted by dhruva at 10:22 PM on October 26, 2005

On the humanity point, the idea with freezing is probably that cold will (definitely) slow the brain down very quickly; by the time the pain of freezing would be an issue, the brain has essentially turned off. Even in the arctic ground squirrel.

Whether that's humane or not is debatable, I guess. I would feel more comfortable doing that to a cold-blooded animal that didn't "struggle" to keep warm than to a hamster. At the least, I'd hit the guy hard on the head before I froze him. (Of course, you want to do that part right the first time, which makes it lose some of its appeal.)

I think the "freezing tissues swell" idea is close, but not quite on - when things freeze slowly, ice crystals form inside cells. The slower the freeze, the larger the crystals (same with diamonds). These crystals essentially shred everything they grow into, and rupture the cell wall as they get bigger. Thus, dead cell.

However, many bugs and whatnot* CAN be frozen if it's done quickly. This is done all the time with nematode roundworms (-20C) and with sperm (-80C). The main issue is to freeze them so quickly that large crystals can't form.

There's another issue with animals and plants, though - if they can put enough material into their cell and blood fluids (salts, sugars and other natural antrifreeze agents), then the cells won't freeze at all because the freezing temperature is too low. So this little guy's survival might depend on the actual temperature of your freezer (often -4C), not just that it can freeze water.

Anyway, my bet is yes. Flies tend to live through a few frosts in the fall, although it certainly isn't good for them.

*Bugs and whatnot, says the entomologist.
posted by metaculpa at 10:26 PM on October 26, 2005

I put "humanely" in quotes because it wasn't my term, but a quote from others who've suggested the method. They seem to think the hamster will go to sleep and not notice that it is freezing to death. I believe this is a way some parents euthanize their children's ailing hamsters. It sure beats my parents' plan of drowning my hamster in a bucket, drying it with a blowdryer, and then fluffing it up and putting poor Chip back in the cage for me to find. I still remember putting my hand in the cage, finding a stiff hamster, and yelling (in shock), "Rigor mortis! Rigor mortis!" I was about 6 or 7 and Chip had been struggling with a tumor. My parents never told me what happened until I was about 17. I think I would have preferred they put Chip in the freezer, even if they didn't have money for euthanasia at the vet's.
posted by acoutu at 10:36 PM on October 26, 2005

In Colorado, flies survive the winter in caves.
posted by hortense at 10:36 PM on October 26, 2005

Relatively scientific source for answering this one: "Use of Extreme Temperatures in Urban Insect Pest Management."

For the uninitiated, it may be surprising to learn that many kinds of insects can survive long periods of freezing...Insects are immobilized during chill coma, but the coma is reversible if the exposure is not too long...Depending upon the insect,
brief pre-exposures to 0-6°C may prevent cold shock injury by initiating protective physiological mechanisms...This phenomenon is fairly common among insects.

posted by mediareport at 11:16 PM on October 26, 2005

Er, that's a pdf.
posted by mediareport at 11:16 PM on October 26, 2005

We used to do the same thing with cockroahes when I was a kid. Catch them, freeze them, then defrost them somewhere further down the street, in order to ... ahem... confuse them.
posted by bunglin jones at 2:03 AM on October 27, 2005

What else can I freeze and thaw back to life?

Funny you should ask.

In high school I had heard about the fish-freezing-thing and had an innovative slant on the idea that I thought would make me a shoe-in for a Westinghouse scholarship. Basically, I wanted to take the fish-freezing thing and step it up to mammals. The consequences of such a discovery would have an enormous impact on many fields: the health industry (freeze terminally ill patients, a-la Walt Disney), the space industry (freeze astronauts until they get to their destination, requiring less consumables for the trip like air, food, water and heat), etc.

So first: yes, it does work for fish. Fish can slow their systems down to next-to-nothing and have chemicals in their bodies that inhibit the formation of ice crystals. That's the key--if any ice forms, you get massive cellular degeneration. This is the primary reason why you can't freeze mammals (or at least, you can't re-animate frozen mammals). The secondary reason why you can't reanimate mammals is that, since the water takes the place of air in their air pathways, the subjects will drown before they're even frozen. So that's no good.

Here's the fun part. If you substitute water with an oxygenated fluorocarbon solution (see: The Abyss), the air pathway can be filled without drowning the subject. This fluid is commonly used in high frequency liquid ventillation for patients with lung damage--the fluid allows the lungs to heal without requiring a cardiopulmonary bypass.

I'll follow up in an hour (have to run).
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 5:07 AM on October 27, 2005

It will "re-animate", but I'm not sure how much time you have. That is, how long do you have before the fly goes from comatose to dead. David Blaine used this trick for one of his Street Magic shows.

I also remember reading about how Harry Blackstone (Sr.)had a similar illusion. But instead of freezing the fly, he would drown it in water. Then he'd cover it with salt, and the fly would miraculously recover. Apparently, he thought this was a great magic trick, but was confounded by the non-translatability (?) of the effect to the stage.
posted by ObscureReferenceMan at 5:54 AM on October 27, 2005

On a related note, this article from April '05 describes recent progress in inducing suspended animation in mammals.
posted by foraneagle2 at 7:13 AM on October 27, 2005

glibhamdreck, that link is hilarious. "Sit back and enjoy watching the happy flies playing with the plane! None of them will have experienced anything like this before!"

Yep, it's doubtful they've had their legs glued to a match before.
posted by mfbridges at 7:17 AM on October 27, 2005

Shit, dude. I can't believe anyone would be so cruel as to kill hamsters that way.

My method would either (humane), you know, take it to the freaking vet to be put to sleep, or (slightly less humane) giving it to a snake owner for feeding time. At least that's natural, and snakes gotta eat.
posted by agregoli at 7:21 AM on October 27, 2005


Having solved the first part of the problem (not drowning the subjects), I began to try and tackle the second part, which was preventing ice formation. I tried a number of different methods, all using mice. For quick-freezing, I submerged the subjects in a container of the fluorocarbon solution, then submerge this container in another container, first with liquid nitrogen, then with liquid helium. Neither worked, unfortunately. I didn't have access to any method of electrical cardioversion, and feel that might have helped jump-start the reanimation process.

I then tried slow-freezing the subjects: my thinking was that I might be able to encourage their systems to go into survival mode, slowing down their vitals into a state of decelerated animation, if not suspended. There have been many anecdotal accounts of children falling into frozen lakes, getting pulled out dead, then getting revived--I had hoped to reproduce this phenomenon using a measured, reproducible method. This was successful to a limited extend (two mice out of 20), but the mice did not live long afterwards.

Unfortunately, that's where my experiments ended. When I tried to secure more funding, the ASPCA was informed of my actions and everything quickly ground to a halt. The only portion of my experiment that was allowed to be entered was the tests I had done with fish, which wasn't terribly ground-breaking and didn't win me anything. FYI for anyone thinking of doing this: I remember reading somewhere that long-term exposure to oxygenated fluorocarbon solutions can be carcinogenic, but I have not verified this.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 7:32 AM on October 27, 2005

One other thing: two of my fish subjects (Albert and Isaac--both goldfish) lived for another 5 years. I didn't think they would live another month, which is why I put them in this tiny bowl (thinking, "Why should I bother getting a tank when they're just going to die in a week?") but the suckers just kept on living. I'm not trying to suggest that freezing them gave them super-fish powers or anything (though average life expectancy of previous fish was a year, tops), only that evidence suggests they were unharmed by the process.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 7:37 AM on October 27, 2005

The wood frog is found throughout Alaska and Canada and survives severe winter cold by basically freezing.
posted by driveler at 8:16 AM on October 27, 2005

I am guessing no. What else can I freeze and thaw back to life?

Once in entomology I learned about a spider that freezes underground every night and survives just fine. The key is that it has a bunch of salts or something in its blood that serve as a kind of anti-freeze. A household freezer will freeze pure water solid, but not necessarily all things (I give you vodka, for example). So it's not as intuitive as it seems. It depends on the biochemistry of the organism. But most organisms have enough water in them to experience at least some cellular damage from its crystallization.
posted by scarabic at 10:22 AM on October 27, 2005

I don't see why freezing hamsters would be considered inhumane: afaik, reports from people who have survived hypothermia indicates that freezing to death isn't a particularly bad way to go.
posted by five fresh fish at 10:35 AM on October 27, 2005

Re: freezing vodka -- people have died by ingesting sub-zero vodka in quantity: so cold that as they imbibe, it freezes all that it comes in contact with. Nasty.

Mind, that could be urban legend, too.
posted by five fresh fish at 10:36 AM on October 27, 2005

WHen I did this as a kid, it worked unless you left them in too long. A few hours works, a few days killed.
posted by -harlequin- at 12:16 PM on October 27, 2005

I know for a fact certain fish can be frozen in solid ice for months and still be alive when they are thawed out in the spring. I know this because Tyler knows this. Actually, because I had a friend who had a fish pond..
posted by JokingClown at 3:11 AM on October 30, 2005

More on the super-cooled Vodka as instrument of death anecdote.
posted by macinchik at 1:29 PM on November 3, 2005

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