Abstract 1. The common blossom thrips, Frankliniella schultzei, is a polyphagous anthophilic species that colonises a wide range of host-plant species across different plant taxa. The environmental cues used by these polyphagous insects to recognise and locate host plants are not known. We therefore determined if colour is an important environmental signal used by F. schultzei to recognise flowers of eight of its more significant host-plant species. 2. The effect of flower colour on the colonisation of different host plant species by F. schultzei was investigated by collecting and analysing the following: (a) numbers of thrips from different heights and aspects of the primary host plant Malvaviscus arboreus, (b) thrips distribution within flowers of Hibiscus rosasinensis, (c) colour reflectance from flowers of eight different host-plant species, and (d) reflectance from different coloured sticky traps and the number of thrips trapped on them at different times of the day and on different dates. 3. The results indicate that: (a) the thrips (both sexes) concentrate towards the top of the primary host plant M. arboreus and are not distributed differentially according to sunny or shady aspect of the plant, (b) the number of female thrips on H. rosasinensis was higher in anthers compared to petals (corolla) and the basal parts of the flower, and males were as numerous on the petals as were females, and (c) there is a common floral reflectance pattern (but with different intensities) across the eight host plant species, mainly in the red part of the spectrum (600–700 nm). 4. Results of colour sticky trapping show that red attracts more female thrips compared to any other colour and that most were caught between 09.00 and 11.00 hours. By contrast, more male thrips were trapped between 07.00 and 09.00 hours. Males were more evenly distributed across the different colours but the highest numbers were associated with the yellow traps. 5. The higher densities of thrips at the top of their host plant may be related to the early morning (07.00–11.00 hours) activity of the thrips, when the top portions of the plant are more exposed to sunlight. The sex-related distributions of F. schultzei thrips across time, coloured sticky traps, and various parts of the flowers seem to be related to mating swarm formation by the males, on the one hand, and the relative frequency and intensity of the use of M. arboreus by the females, on the other, as a feeding and oviposition site. Frankliniella schultzei females respond more strongly to red than to any other colours, so it is predicted that the spectral properties of colour recognition by this species will correlate with the predominant red reflectance of its primary host, M. arboreus, and that there may well be a sex-related difference in colour recognition within this species.
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