Recently it was observed that the Hydropsyche pellucidula caddis flies swarm near sunset at the vertical glass surfaces of buildings standing on the bank of the Danube river in Budapest, Hungary. These aquatic insects emerge from the Danube and are lured to dark vertical panes of glass, where they swarm, land, copulate, and remain for hours. It was also shown that ovipositing H. pellucidula caddis flies are attracted to highly and horizontally polarized light stimulating their ventral eye region and thus have positive polarotaxis. The attraction of these aquatic insects to vertical reflectors is surprising, because after their aerial swarming, they must return to the horizontal surface of water bodies from which they emerge and at which they lay their eggs. Our aim is to answer the questions: Why are flying polarotactic caddis flies attracted to vertical glass surfaces? And why do these aquatic insects remain on vertical panes of glass after landing? We propose that both questions can be partly explained by the reflection–polarization characteristics of vertical glass surfaces and the positive polarotaxis of caddis flies. We measured the reflection–polarization patterns of shady and sunlit, black and white vertical glass surfaces from different directions of view under clear and overcast skies by imaging polarimetry in the red, green, and blue parts of the spectrum. Using these polarization patterns we determined which areas of the investigated glass surfaces are sensed as water by a hypothetical polarotactic insect facing and flying toward or landed on a vertical pane of glass. Our results strongly support the mentioned proposition. The main optical characteristics of “green,” that is, environmentally friendly, buildings, considering the protection of polarotactic aquatic insects, are also discussed. Such “green” buildings possess features that attract only a small number of polarotactic aquatic insects when standing in the vicinity of fresh waters. Since vertical glass panes of buildings are abundant in the man-made optical environment, and polarotactic aquatic insects are spread worldwide, our results are of general interest in the visual and behavioral ecology of aquatic insects.
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Philip S. Callahan
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