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University of Basel

City Moths Avoid the Light

light tower
Moths and other nocturnal insects are attracted by artificial light sources. Swiss zoologist study how this behavior differst in animals from areas with high and low light pollution (Image: A. Bieger).

The globally increasing light pollution has negative effects on organisms and entire ecosystems. The consequences are especially hard on nocturnal insects, since their attraction to artificial light sources generally ends fatal. A new study by Swiss zoologists from the Universities of Basel and Zurich now shows that urban moths have learned to avoid light. The journal Biology Letters has published their results.

12 April 2016

light tower
Moths and other nocturnal insects are attracted by artificial light sources. Swiss zoologist study how this behavior differst in animals from areas with high and low light pollution (Image: A. Bieger).

Some insects are attracted by light while others shy away from it. Proverbial is the attraction light has on moths. Street lamps and other artificial light sources often become death traps for nocturnal insects such as moths. Either they die through direct burning or through increased exposure to predators. Mortality of urban insects can thus be 40- to 100- fold higher than in rural populations.

Small ermine moth
Small ermine moth (Yponomeuta cagnagella). Animals of this species were used to study the attraction light has on moths from populations in areas with heavy light pollution and areas with low light pollution. © F. Altermatt

Artificial light affects the ecosystem of insects by interfering with their natural day-night cycle and influencing behavior patterns such as feeding and reproduction.  Swiss Zoologists have now studied whether moths in the Basel region have already evolutionary adapted to the changed light conditions.

City moths are less attracted to light

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