Can the narrow red bands of dragonflies be used to perceive wing interference patterns?

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Despite numerous studies of selection on position and number of spectral vision bands, explanations to the function of narrow spectral bands are lacking. We investigate dragonflies (Odonata), which have the narrowest spectral bands reported, in order to investigate what features these narrow spectral bands may be used to perceive. We address whether it is likely that narrow red bands can be used to identify conspecifics by the optical signature from wing interference patterns (WIPs). We investigate the optical signatures of Odonata wings using hyperspectral imaging, laser profiling, ellipsometry, polarimetric modulation spectroscopy, and laser radar experiments. Based on results, we estimate the prospects for Odonata perception of WIPs to identify conspecifics in the spectral, spatial, intensity, polarization, angular, and temporal domains. We find six lines of evidence consistent with an ability to perceive WIPs. First, the wing membrane thickness of the studied Odonata is 2.3 μm, coinciding with the maximal thickness perceivable by the reported bandwidth. Second, flat wings imply that WIPs persist from whole wings, which can be seen at a distance. Third, WIPs constitute a major brightness in the visual environment only second after the solar disk. Fourth, WIPs exhibit high degree of polarization and polarization vision coincides with frontal narrow red bands in Odonata. Fifth, the angular light incidence on the Odonata composite eye provides all prerequisites for direct assessment of the refractive index which is associated with age. Sixth, WIPs from conspecifics in flight make a significant contribution even to the fundamental wingbeat frequency within the flicker fusion bandwidth of Odonata vision. We conclude that it is likely that WIPs can be perceived by the narrow red bands found in some Odonata species and propose future behavioral and electrophysiological tests of this hypothesis.


External organisations
  • University of Oslo
  • Norsk Elektro Optikk AS
  • Agilent Technologies, Germany
Research areas and keywords

Subject classification (UKÄ) – MANDATORY

  • Other Physics Topics
  • Zoology


  • Mate choice, Odonata, Private channels, Sexual signaling, Visual ecology, Wing interference patterns
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)5369-5384
JournalEcology and Evolution
Issue number11
Early online date2018 Jan 1
Publication statusPublished - 2018 Jun
Publication categoryResearch

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