Journal of Comparative Physiology A

, Volume 169, Issue 5, pp 531–540 | Cite as

Polarization vision in water insects and insects living on a moist substrate

  • Rudolf Schwind


Light polarized by reflection was tested in the field for its attractiveness to flying insects. Attracted insects include bugs: some living in water (Corixidae, Notonectidae, Pleidae), others living on its surface (Gerridae) or near it (Saldidae). Beetles were also attracted: some are aquatic (Hydrophilinae, Dytiscidae, Haliplidae, Hydraenidae), others inhabit moist substrates (Sphaeridiinae). Also included are Chironomidae among other nematocerans. Non-polarized reflected light failed to attract any of these insects even at intensities far higher.

Three response groups emerge. One is attracted whenever the degree of polarization is high in the UV-range, irrespectively of the degree of polarization in other wavelength ranges, and irrespectively of colour or brightness of the background beneath the polarizing, reflecting surface. The polarization vision of these insects operates in the UV-range. Another group was attracted only by the reflecting surface over a dark background, where the reflected light was highly polarized at all wave-lengths visible to insects. The third group ranges in between.

Some Helophorus species behave in spring like members of the first group; in fall, like members of the second group.

The distribution of the above response groups within various taxa is provided. Sensory mechanisms and eco-physiological implications are discussed.

Key words

Polarized light Water Aquatic insects 



matt black surface

b; y; w; a

black, yellow white material and aluminum foil, reflection characteristics as described in the text;



G/b; G/y; G/w; G/a

glass panes on different materials

Gb, y, w; Gb, y, Gb

types of animals differing in behavior


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Angus RB (1973) The habits, life histories and immature stages of Helophorus F. (Coleoptera: Hydrophilidae). Trans R Entomol Soc Lond 125:1–26Google Scholar
  2. Brown ES (1951) The relation between migration-rate and type of habitat in aquatic insects, with special reference to certain species of Corixidae. Proc Zool Soc Lond 121:539–545Google Scholar
  3. Danthanarayana W, Daspher S (1986) Response of some night-flying insects to polarized light. In: Danthanarayana W (ed) Insect flight: dispersal and migration. Springer, Berlin Heidelberg New York, pp 120–127Google Scholar
  4. Fernando CH (1958) The colonization of small freshwater habitats by aquatic insects. 1. General discussion, methods and colonization in the aquatic Coleoptera. Ceylon J Sci (Bio Sci) 1, No 2:116–154Google Scholar
  5. Fernando CH (1959) The colonization of small freshwater habitats by aquatic insects. 2. Hemiptera (The water bugs). Ceylon J Sci (Bio Sci) 2, No 1:5–32Google Scholar
  6. Fernando CH (1960) Colonization of freshwater habitats with special reference to aquatic insects. In: Purchon RD (ed) Proceedings of the centenary and bicentenary congress of biology, Singapore 1958. Univ Malaysia Press, Singapore, pp 182–186Google Scholar
  7. Fernando CH, Galbraith D (1973) Seasonality and dynamics of quatic insects colonizing small habitats. Verh Intern Verein Limnol 18:1564–1575Google Scholar
  8. Freude H, Harde KW, Lohse GA (1965) Die Käfer Mitteleuropas. Goecke und Evers, KrefeldGoogle Scholar
  9. Frisch K von (1949) Die Polarisation des Himmelslichtes als orientierender Faktor bei Tänzen der Biene. Experientia 5:142–148Google Scholar
  10. Golini VJ, Davies DM (1975) Relative responses to colored substrates by ovipositing blackflies (Diptera: Simuliidae). I. Oviposition by Simulium (Simulium) verecundum Stone and Jamnback. Can J Zool 53:521–535Google Scholar
  11. Hansen M (1987) The Hydrophiloidae (Coleoptera) of Fennoscandia and Denmark. In: Brill EJ (ed) Fauna Entomologica Scandinavia. Scandinavian Science Press Ltd., Leiden CopenhagenGoogle Scholar
  12. Kirk WDJ (1984) Ecologically selective coloured traps. Ecol Entomol 9:35–41Google Scholar
  13. Landin J (1968) Weather and diurnal periodicity of flight by Helophorus brevipalpis Bedel (Col. Hydrophilidae). Opusc Entomol 33:28–36Google Scholar
  14. Landin J, Stark E (1973) On flight thresholds for temperature and wind velocity, 24-hour flight periodicity and migration of the water beetle Helophorus brevipalpis. ZOON, Suppl 1:105–114Google Scholar
  15. Laughlin S (1976) The sensitivities of dragonfly photoreceptors and the voltage gain of transduction. J Comp Physiol 111:221–247Google Scholar
  16. Laughlin S, McGinnes S (1978) The structure of dorsal and ventral regions of a dragonfly retina. Cell Tissue Res 188:427–447Google Scholar
  17. Popham EJ (1964) The migration of aquatic bugs with special reference to the Corixidae (Hemiptera Heteroptera). Arch Hydrobiol 60:450–496Google Scholar
  18. Rossel S (1989) Polarization sensitivity in compound eyes. In: Facets of vision. Springer, Berlin Heidelberg New York, pp 298–316Google Scholar
  19. Schneider L, Langer H (1969) Die Struktur des Rhabdoms im „Doppelauge” des Wasserläufers Gerris lacustris. Z Zellforsch 99:538–559Google Scholar
  20. Schwind R (1983) Zonation of the optical environment and zonation in the rhabdom structure within the eye of the backswimmer, Notonecta glauca. Cell Tissue Res 232:53–63Google Scholar
  21. Schwind R (1984a) The plunge reaction of the backswimmer Notonecta glauca. J Comp Physiol A155:319–321Google Scholar
  22. Schwind R (1984b) Evidence for true polarization vision based on a two-channel analyzer system in the eye of the water bug Notonecta glauca. J Comp Physiol A154:53–57Google Scholar
  23. Schwind R (l985 a) A further proof of polarization vision of Notonecta glauca and a note on threshold intensity for eliciting the plunge reaction. Experientia 41:466–467Google Scholar
  24. Schwind R (1985b) Sehen unter und über Wasser, Sehen von Wasser: Das Sehsystem eines Wasserinsektes. Naturwissenschaften 72:343–352Google Scholar
  25. Schwind R (1989) A variety of insects are attracted to water by reflected polarized light. Naturwissenschaften 76:377–378Google Scholar
  26. Trujillo-Cenóz O, Bernard GD (1972) Some aspects of the retinal organization of Sympycnus lineatus Loew (Diptera, Dolichopodidae). J Ultrastruct Res 38:149–160Google Scholar
  27. Waterman TH (1981) Polarization sensitivity. In: Autrum H (ed) Handbook of sensory physiology, Vol VII/6C. Springer, Berlin Heidelberg New York, pp 281–469Google Scholar
  28. Westphal U (1984) Die Besiedlung künstlicher Kleingewässer in Abhängigkeit von Fläche und Substrat. Dissert Univ Marburg/Lahn, Görich und Weiershäuser, MarburgGoogle Scholar
  29. Zalom FG, Grigarick AA, Way MO (1979) Seasonal and diel flight periodicities of rice field Hydrophilidae. Environm Entomol 8:938–943Google Scholar
  30. Zalom FG, Grigarick AA, Way MO (1980) Diel flight periodicities of some Dytiscidae (Coleoptera) associated with California rice paddies. Ecol Entomol 5:183–187Google Scholar
  31. Zwick P (1990) Emergence, maturation and upstream oviposition flights of Plecoptera from Breitenbach, with notes on the adult phase as a possible control of stream insect populations. Hydrobiol 194:207–223Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 1991

Authors and Affiliations

  • Rudolf Schwind
    • 1
  1. 1.Institut für Zoologie der Universität RegensburgRegensburgGermany

Personalised recommendations