Like other aquatic insects, mayflies are positively polarotactic and locate water surfaces by means of the horizontal polarization of water-reflected light. However, may vertically polarized light also have implications for the swarming behaviour of mayflies? To answer this question, we studied in four field experiments the behavioural responses of Ephoron virgo and Caenis robusta mayflies to lamps emitting horizontally and vertically polarized and unpolarized light. In both species, unpolarized light induces positive phototaxis, horizontally polarized light elicits positive photo- and polarotaxis, horizontally polarized light is much more attractive than unpolarized light, and vertically polarized light is the least attractive if the stimulus intensities and spectra are the same. Vertically polarized light was the most attractive for C. robusta if its intensity was about two and five times higher than that of the unpolarized and horizontally polarized stimuli, respectively. We suggest that the mayfly behaviour observed in our experiments may facilitate the stability of swarming above water surfaces. Beside the open water surface reflecting horizontally polarized light, the shadow and mirror image of riparian vegetation at the edge of the water surface reflect weakly and non-horizontally (mainly vertically) polarized light. Due to their positive polarotaxis, flying mayflies remain continuously above the water surface, because they keep away from the unpolarized or non-horizontally polarizing edge regions (water surface and coast line) of water bodies. We also discuss how our findings can explain the regulation of mayfly colonization.
- Ephoron virgo and Caenis robusta mayflies are attracted less to vertically polarized than to unpolarized light.
- Both species were attracted more to horizontally polarized than to unpolarized light.
- This polarotactic behaviour helps mayflies to avoid unsuitable habitats.
- The attractiveness of mayflies to differently polarized light depends on intensity and species.
- The mirror image of riparian vegetation reflects weakly and non-horizontally polarized light.
- These may facilitate the stability of mayfly swarming above water surfaces.