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Proc Biol Sci. 2006 Jul 7;273(1594):1667-71.

Why do red and dark-coloured cars lure aquatic insects? The attraction of water insects to car paintwork explained by reflection-polarization signals.

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  • 1Group for Methodology in Biology Teaching, Loránd Eötvös University, 1117 Budapest, Pázmány Péter sétány 1, Hungary.

Abstract

We reveal here the visual ecological reasons for the phenomenon that aquatic insects often land on red, black and dark-coloured cars. Monitoring the numbers of aquatic beetles and bugs attracted to shiny black, white, red and yellow horizontal plastic sheets, we found that red and black reflectors are equally highly attractive to water insects, while yellow and white reflectors are unattractive. The reflection-polarization patterns of black, white, red and yellow cars were measured in the red, green and blue parts of the spectrum. In the blue and green, the degree of linear polarization p of light reflected from red and black cars is high and the direction of polarization of light reflected from red and black car roofs, bonnets and boots is nearly horizontal. Thus, the horizontal surfaces of red and black cars are highly attractive to red-blind polarotactic water insects. The p of light reflected from the horizontal surfaces of yellow and white cars is low and its direction of polarization is usually not horizontal. Consequently, yellow and white cars are unattractive to polarotactic water insects. The visual deception of aquatic insects by cars can be explained solely by the reflection-polarizational characteristics of the car paintwork.

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