Journal of Comparative Physiology A

, Volume 200, Issue 6, pp 575–589 | Cite as

Integration of polarization and chromatic cues in the insect sky compass

  • Basil el Jundi
  • Keram Pfeiffer
  • Stanley Heinze
  • Uwe Homberg


Animals relying on a celestial compass for spatial orientation may use the position of the sun, the chromatic or intensity gradient of the sky, the polarization pattern of the sky, or a combination of these cues as compass signals. Behavioral experiments in bees and ants, indeed, showed that direct sunlight and sky polarization play a role in sky compass orientation, but the relative importance of these cues are species-specific. Intracellular recordings from polarization-sensitive interneurons in the desert locust and monarch butterfly suggest that inputs from different eye regions, including polarized-light input through the dorsal rim area of the eye and chromatic/intensity gradient input from the main eye, are combined at the level of the medulla to create a robust compass signal. Conflicting input from the polarization and chromatic/intensity channel, resulting from eccentric receptive fields, is eliminated at the level of the anterior optic tubercle and central complex through internal compensation for changing solar elevations, which requires input from a circadian clock. Across several species, the central complex likely serves as an internal sky compass, combining E-vector information with other celestial cues. Descending neurons, likewise, respond both to zenithal polarization and to unpolarized cues in an azimuth-dependent way.


Polarization vision Sky compass orientation Color vision Insect brain Central complex 



This work was supported by grants from the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (HO 950/16-1, 16-2 and 16-3) to UH.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • Basil el Jundi
    • 2
  • Keram Pfeiffer
    • 1
  • Stanley Heinze
    • 2
  • Uwe Homberg
    • 1
  1. 1.Faculty of Biology, Animal PhysiologyPhilipps-University of MarburgMarburgGermany
  2. 2.Vision Group, Department of BiologyLund UniversityLundSweden

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