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Does reflection polarization by plants influence colour perception in insects? Polarimetric measurements applied to a polarization-sensitive model retina of Papilio butterflies
Gábor Horváth, József Gál, Thomas Labhart, Rüdiger Wehner


Using imaging polarimetry, we have measured some typical reflection-polarization patterns of plant surfaces (leaves and flowers) under different illuminations. Using a quantitative model to determine photon absorptions in the weakly polarization-sensitive (PS≈2) photoreceptors of Papilio butterflies, we have calculated the influence of reflection polarization on the colours of leaves and flowers perceived by Papilio. Compared with a retina containing polarization-blind colour receptors, the colour loci of specularly reflecting and, thus, strongly polarizing areas on a plant are slightly shifted, which could cause the perception of false colours. However, the colour of specularly reflecting surfaces is strongly masked by white glare, which may prevent the perception of polarization-induced hue shifts. Although the perception of polarizational false colours by Papilio butterflies was previously demonstrated with artificial, strongly colour-saturated and totally linearly polarized stimuli, we expect that the weak polarization sensitivity of Papilio photoreceptors hardly influences colour perception under natural conditions.

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