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Do monarch butterflies use polarized skylight for migratory orientation?

Julia Stalleicken, Maya Mukhida, Thomas Labhart, RĂ¼diger Wehner, Barrie Frost, Henrik Mouritsen
Journal of Experimental Biology 2005, 208: 2399-408
15939779
To test if migratory monarch butterflies use polarized light patterns as part of their time-compensated sun compass, we recorded their virtual flight paths in a flight simulator while the butterflies were exposed to patches of naturally polarized blue sky, artificial polarizers or a sunny sky. In addition, we tested butterflies with and without the polarized light detectors of their compound eye being occluded. The monarchs' orientation responses suggested that the butterflies did not use the polarized light patterns as a compass cue, nor did they exhibit a specific alignment response towards the axis of polarized light. When given direct view of the sun, migratory monarchs with their polarized light detectors painted out were still able to use their time-compensated compass: non-clockshifted butterflies, with their dorsal rim area occluded, oriented in their typical south-southwesterly migratory direction. Furthermore, they shifted their flight course clockwise by the predicted approximately 90 degrees after being advance clockshifted 6 h. We conclude that in migratory monarch butterflies, polarized light cues are not necessary for a time-compensated celestial compass to work and that the azimuthal position of the sun disc and/or the associated light-intensity and spectral gradients seem to be the migrants' major compass cue.

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