A new study shows that insects actually suffer when they orbit artificial light sources in different ways. These lights really confuse them in their orientation.

Insects flying around light sources are a common sight on summer evenings. The common explanation for this is that they are only attracted to light, but the reality is very depressing – at least according to the results of a new study.

Insects use light to find their way, but artificial light sources — such as general lighting fixtures — confuse them. This often has serious consequences, highlights Nature Communications A study recently published in the journal.

According to Jamie Theobald, a biologist at Florida International University and co-author of the study, the first descriptions of this phenomenon come from people sitting around a fire — from prehistoric times. But the sad truth is that all previous speculations about the causes of the phenomenon were wrong.

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The researchers conducted their experiments on this topic in a cloud forest in Costa Rica, by turning on an artificial light source. The insects that appeared as a result were recorded.

According to their observations, the insects did several different things about the light source:

  • rotate (in an arc, around the light source);
  • They passed (they flew and then slowed down);
  • It also flipped.

They supplemented their observations with laboratory experiments, and the results were quite clear: they did not turn towards the light, but rather approached it “with their backs”.

In natural conditions, turning their backs to the light in the sky helps them maintain the correct flight altitude and direction. This can completely confuse insects in an artificial light environment, setting a kind of trap for them.

Ultimately, insect movements observed near lamps are failed attempts to explain light, the researchers conclude Gizmodo.

It's a hard lesson to learn. Most human-made artificial light sources will be difficult to eliminate, because general lighting plays an important role in the darkness of the night in many ways.

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