Study Reveals Why Insects Attracted to Lights at Night

Tue Feb 20 2024
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LONDON: In a recent study, researchers may have uncovered the reason behind the age-old phenomenon of flying insects being attracted to lights at night. The findings suggest that insects mistake artificial light for the direction of “up,” causing them to show erratic flight patterns around light sources.

Conducted by scientists at Imperial College London, the study utilized high-speed infrared cameras to track the flight behavior of various insects under different lighting conditions. The research indicates that insects, including moths, dragonflies, fruit flies, and hawkmoths, adjust their flight course to position their backs toward the light source, believing it to be the direction of the sky.

Flying Insects Perceive Brightest Region as Sky

Corresponding author Samuel Fabian explained that insects have evolved to use the brightest region in their field of view as an indicator of where the sky is, crucial for directing flight forces to counteract gravity. However, the prevalence of artificial light at night disrupts this natural navigation mechanism, leading insects to perceive bright patches as the sky and attempt to position themselves accordingly.

The study’s findings challenge previous theories that suggested insects are attracted to lights as an escape route or due to the influence of the Moon. Instead, the researchers propose that insects are inadvertently lured by artificial light, falling into a sensory trap caused by an ancient behavioral reflex.

Dr. Fabian emphasized that the study underscores the detrimental impact of light pollution on wildlife, human health, and astronomical observations. However, he also highlighted potential solutions, such as implementing motion-activated lights to reduce light pollution while maintaining functionality.


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