Short Communication


, Volume 94, Issue 2, pp 148-154

First online:

Positive polarotaxis in a mayfly that never leaves the water surface: polarotactic water detection in Palingenia longicauda (Ephemeroptera)

  • György KriskaAffiliated withGroup for Methodology in Biology Teaching, Biological Institute, Loránd Eötvös University
  • , Balázs BernáthAffiliated withDepartment of Zoology, Plant Protection Institute of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences
  • , Gábor HorváthAffiliated withBiooptics Laboratory, Department of Biological Physics, Physical Institute, Loránd Eötvös University Email author 

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Tisza mayflies, Palingenia longicauda (Olivier 1791), swarm exclusively over the river Tisza (from which the name of the mayfly was derived). This river is bordered by a high vertical wall of trees and bushes, which hinder P. longicauda to move away horizontally from the water. During swarming, Tisza mayflies fly immediately above the river in such a way that their cerci touch the water frequently or sweep its surface. This continuous close connection with water and the vertical wall of the shore and riparian vegetation result in that Tisza mayflies never leave the water surface; consequently, they need not search for water. Several Ephemeroptera species move away far from water and return to it guided by the horizontal polarization of water-reflected light. To reveal whether also P. longicauda is or is not polarotactic, we performed a field experiment during the very short swarming period of Tisza mayflies. We show here that also P. longicauda has positive polarotaxis, which, however, can be observed only under unnatural conditions, when the animals are displaced from the water and then released above artificial test surfaces. P. longicauda is the first species in which polarotactic water detection is demonstrated albeit it never leaves the water surface, and thus, a polarotactic water detection seems unnecessary for it. The polarotactic behaviour of Tisza mayflies explains the earlier observation that these insects swarm above wet asphalt roads running next to river Tisza.


Palingenia longicauda Tisza mayfly Ephemeroptera Water detection Positive polarotaxis Polarization vision