Researchers find LEDs attract more flying invertebrates than conventional lighting

LED Lamp with E27 Edison screw.
LED Lamp with E27 Edison screw. Image: Wikipedia.

A pair of researchers with the New Zealand research institute Scion, has found that flying invertebrates are more attracted to LED lights than to conventional outdoor lighting. In their paper published in the journal, Ecological Applications, Stephen Pawson and Martin Bader describe a simple study they carried out to see how attractive lighting was to flying bugs and what they found in doing so.

LEDs are in the news of course, because the trio of researchers that invented the blue-light variety just won the Nobel Prize in physics. Their work has to LEDs that are bright enough to use in regular lighting applications but use far less energy and last much longer. In this new effort, the research pair suggests that there is a side-effect of LED lighting that might cause ecological problems.

Modern street lights are generally sodium vapor lamps—they're more efficient than most other pre-LED lighting and emit yellow rather than white light. Insects, as we all know are attracted to light, white or yellow, but it seems they are even more attracted to blue light, and that's the kind of light that is generated by LED bulbs—they only look white because of a phosphor coating that stretches much of the light into a longer wavelength. We may not be able to see the , but bugs can.

To find out just how much more attractive moths, flies, etc., find LEDs (as compared to sodium vapor lamps) the researchers set sticky paper next to both types of lights out in a field for a period of time at night, then collected the results and counted how many specimens they'd captured. They found that the paper next to the LEDs had approximately 48 percent more bugs than those next to traditional lighting. This could be a problem they suggest because it could mean LEDs are interfering with food webs or drawing more flying critters into urban areas—in one extreme example they note putting LED lights at seaports could contribute to the spread of invasive species such as gypsy moths.

The researchers also tried the same experiment using different LED brands and types and with different filters but found the results remained the same—the bugs came at all of them in hordes.

More information: Ecological Applications. Volume 24, Issue 7 (October 2014). DOI: 10.1890/14-0468.1

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Oct 15, 2014
Well, put them in bug zappers. Problem solved.

Oct 15, 2014
Why can't they just say INSECTS... instead of invertebrates.

Wow. Usually people complain when the articles are dumbed-down instead of remaining resolutely technical.

Well, just your luck, in paragraph #4 they used both the terms "bugs" AND "flying critters". Surely you read that far.

By the way, insects are just a small segment of the invertebrate group, which also includes spiders, excuse me... Arachnids, which they no doubt must have been referring to in paragraph #4 when they mentioned "food webs".

Paragraph #4 was the high point of unfussy verbage. My favorite was "sticky paper". Simple and easy to conceptualize.

Take note - these articles are by science writers, not scientists.

Oct 16, 2014
Who writes these articles? "We may not be able to see the blue light, but bugs can" What?? Humans cannot see blue light? Give me a break!
Also, "Insects, as we all know are attracted to light, white or yellow" This is also incorrect; most insects can barely see the lower end of the spectrum. This is the reason why yellow outdoor lights are sold, which do not attract many insects.

Oct 16, 2014
They hypothesize that blue light causes the attraction. Then they state they tried different filters to no effect (imprecisely that bugs still came in hordes). Unsatisfying. Either their hypothesis is wrong, or their filters didn't filter. In any case we are left with a magical, unexplained effect.

Oct 16, 2014
Put them at the center of a fan on the intake side. Wait over night, breakfast for the birds.

Oct 19, 2014
What?? Humans cannot see blue light? Give me a break!


If you have two "white" lights, one incandecent bulb and one LED light, and their color temperatures are the same, they will be percieved to be the same color, but the LED light spectrum actually consists of a large spike in the blue and yellow-green, whereas the incandecent bulb spectrum contains little blue light.

That's because the eye percieves as color the weighted average of the spectrum components instead of the individual components themselves.

The insects can be sensitive to the bright blue light coming off of the LED light that isn't present in the conventional bulb light. Humans are as well; the intense blue in the spectrum of LED bulbs affects human melatonin production and causes problems with the circadian rythm because it triggers the same response as daylight.

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