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Am Nat. 2010 May;175(5):614-20. doi: 10.1086/651593.

Differential response to circularly polarized light by the jewel scarab beetle Chrysina gloriosa.

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Department of Physics, University of Texas, Austin, Texas 78712, USA.


Circularly polarized light is rare in the terrestrial environment, and cuticular reflections from scarab beetles are one of the few natural sources. Chrysina gloriosa LeConte 1854, a scarab beetle found in montane juniper forests of the extreme southwestern United States and northern Mexico, are camouflaged in juniper foliage; however, when viewed with right circularly polarizing filters, the beetles exhibit a stark black contrast. Given the polarization-specific changes in the appearance of C. gloriosa, we hypothesized that C. gloriosa can detect circularly polarized light. We tested for phototactic response and differential flight orientation of C. gloriosa toward different light stimuli. Chrysina gloriosa exhibited (a) positive phototaxis, (b) differential flight orientation between linear and circularly polarized light stimuli of equal intensities, and (c) discrimination between circularly polarized and unpolarized lights of different intensities consistent with a model of circular polarization sensitivity based on a quarter-wave plate. These results demonstrate that C. gloriosa beetles respond differentially to circularly polarized light. In contrast, Chrysina woodi Horn 1885, a close relative with reduced circularly polarized reflection, exhibited no phototactic discrimination between linear and circularly polarized light. Circularly polarized sensitivity may allow C. gloriosa to perceive and communicate with conspecifics that remain cryptic to predators, reducing indirect costs of communication.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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