Insects are not actually drawn to lights; instead, they experience vertigo

By: | February 29th, 2024

Image by Pixabay

Illusion of Attraction:

For centuries, we’ve observed moths dance around flames, gnats buzz against windows, and midges spin before lamps, convinced they’re lured by an irresistible light-lust. However, a captivating new twist in the insect-illumination saga suggests the truth is far less romantic. Instead of attraction, it’s all about disorientation.

Recent studies, armed with high-speed cameras and advanced 3D tracking technology, have unveiled an unexpected revelation. The frenzied fluttering around bright lights is not a moth’s celestial ballet but rather a desperate effort to regain balance.

Insects aren’t drawn to bright lights; they’re simply carrying out their nightly tasks like pollination. When a strong burst of light confuses their sense of direction, they end up in a cycle of corrections, creating the illusion of being attracted to your porch light.

Disrupting Evolution:

Insects’ navigational instincts become confused by artificial lights, causing them to loop around bulbs. This behavior results in vertigo, collisions, and exhaustion as insects struggle to adapt to the varying brightness in their environment.

The researchers in the recent study initially uncovered this explanation through laboratory experiments. They affixed motion capture markers to moths and dragonflies to analyze their flight patterns around a light, capturing details such as rolling and rotating motions.

Remarkably, the researchers recorded 477 videos featuring interactions between 10 different insect species and the light source. All these species consistently positioned the light at their backs, even going so far as to flip upside down when flying over the top of the light source.

“Contrary to the expectation of attraction, insects do not steer directly toward the light,” the team described. “Instead, insects turn their [back] toward the light, generating flight bouts perpendicular to the source.

Nidhi Goyal

Nidhi is a gold medalist Post Graduate in Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences.

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