A 'polarisation sun-dial' dictates the optimal time of day for dispersal by flying aquatic insects

Zoltán Csabai, Pál Boda, Balázs Bernáth, György Kriska, Gábor Horváth

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

66 Citations (Scopus)


1. Daily changes in the flight activity of aquatic insects have been investigated in only a few water beetles and bugs. The diel flight periodicity of aquatic insects and the environmental factors governing it are poorly understood. 2. We found that primary aquatic insects belonging to 99 taxa (78 Coleoptera, 21 Heteroptera) fly predominantly in mid-morning, and/or around noon and/or at nightfall. There appears to be at least four different types of diurnal flight activity rhythm in aquatic insects, characterised by peak(s): (i) in mid-morning; (ii) in the evening; (iii) both in mid-morning and the evening; (iv) around noon and again in the evening. These activity maxima are quite general and cannot be explained exclusively by daily fluctuations of air temperature, humidity, wind speed and risks of predation, which are all somewhat stochastic. 3. We found experimental evidence that the proportion (%) P(θ) of reflecting surfaces detectable polarotactically as 'water' is always maximal at the lowest (dawn and dusk) and highest (noon) angles of solar elevation (θ) for dark reflectors while P(θ) is maximal at dawn and dusk (low solar elevations) for bright reflectors under clear or partly cloudy skies. 4. From the temporal coincidence between peaks in the diel flight activity of primary aquatic insects and the polarotactic detectability P(θ) of water surfaces we conclude that the optimal times of day for aquatic insects to disperse are the periods of low and high solar elevations θ. The θ-dependent reflection-polarisation patterns, combined with an appropriate air temperature, clearly explain why polarotactic aquatic insects disperse to new habitats in mid-morning, and/or around noon and/or at dusk. We call this phenomenon the 'polarisation sun-dial' of dispersing aquatic insects.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1341-1350
Number of pages10
JournalFreshwater Biology
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - Jul 1 2006


  • Aquatic insect dispersal
  • Detection of water
  • Diel flight activity
  • Polarisation vision
  • Positive polarotaxis

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Aquatic Science

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