, Volume 95, Issue 5, pp 461-467
Date: 06 Feb 2008

Glass buildings on river banks as “polarized light traps” for mass-swarming polarotactic caddis flies

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The caddis flies Hydropsyche pellucidula emerge at dusk from the river Danube and swarm around trees and bushes on the river bank. We document here that these aquatic insects can also be attracted en masse to the vertical glass surfaces of buildings on the river bank. The individuals lured to dark, vertical glass panes land, copulate, and remain on the glass for hours. Many of them are trapped by the partly open, tiltable windows. In laboratory choice experiments, we showed that ovipositing H. pellucidula are attracted to highly and horizontally polarized light stimulating their ventral eye region and, thus, have positive polarotaxis. In the field, we documented that highly polarizing vertical black glass surfaces are significantly more attractive to both female and male H. pellucidula than weakly polarizing white ones. Using video polarimetry, we measured the reflection-polarization characteristics of vertical glass surfaces of buildings where caddis flies swarmed. We propose that after its emergence from the river, H. pellucidula is attracted to buildings by their dark silhouettes and the glass-reflected, horizontally polarized light. After sunset, this attraction may be strengthened by positive phototaxis elicited by the buildings’ lights. The novelty of this visual–ecological phenomenon is that the attraction of caddis flies to vertical glass surfaces has not been expected because vertical glass panes do not resemble the horizontal surface of waters from which these insects emerge and to which they must return to oviposit.