Journal of Comparative Physiology A

, Volume 169, Issue 5, pp 531–540

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


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 1991

Authors and Affiliations

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

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