Spottier Targets Are Less Attractive to Tabanid Flies: On the Tabanid-Repellency of Spotty Fur Patterns
Aquatic insects find their habitat from a remote distance by means of horizontal polarization of light reflected from the water surface. This kind of positive polarotaxis is governed by the horizontal direction of polarization (E-vector). Tabanid flies also detect water by this kind of polarotaxis. The host choice of blood-sucking female tabanids is partly governed by the linear polarization of light reflected from the host’s coat. Since the coat-reflected light is not always horizontally polarized, host finding by female tabanids may be different from the established horizontal E-vector polarotaxis. To reveal the optical cue of the former polarotaxis, we performed choice experiments in the field with tabanid flies using aerial and ground-based visual targets with different degrees and directions of polarization. We observed a new kind of polarotaxis being governed by the degree of polarization rather than the E-vector direction of reflected light. We show here that female and male tabanids use polarotaxis governed by the horizontal E-vector to find water, while polarotaxis based on the degree of polarization serves host finding by female tabanids. As a practical by-product of our studies, we explain the enigmatic attractiveness of shiny black spheres used in canopy traps to catch tabanids.