Y'all got any, uhhhh, lamp?

Bug Brained

Like a moth to a lamp, we humans have long thought we knew why bugs are so attracted to artificial lights — but new research suggests we may have been just as dim as they are.

New research out of Imperial College London and Florida International University posits that artificial light might be messing with these poor bugs' brains because, as the biologists behind the yet-to-be-peer-reviewed study note, the insects aren't flying directly toward the light the way scientists previously presumed.

Using what the paper describes as "high-resolution motion capture in the laboratory and stereo-videography" to film butterflies, dragonflies, and moths, the researchers found that instead of flying head-first towards artificial lights, bugs are going butt-first towards them, which can "trap an insect" in the kind of frenzied circuitous holding patterns we witness when bugs bump into outdoor lamps.

Lamp Is Love

In an interview with the New York Times about the new research, insect flight expert Tyson Hendrick of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill said that this study lends credence to one of his long-standing theories.

"This is the best argument so far for what explains this behavior," Hendrick, who did not work on the paper, told the NYT. "It’s one of these things that we all sort of think we know about nature, and it’s getting overturned."

Beyond just explaining the bizarre way insects fly around lights, the paper also offers a simple mechanism to head off bugs zapping their way into an early grave — by putting up outdoor lights that point downward, instead of those that shine horizontally or upward. Those types of lights, the researchers noted in the paper, seemed to mess with the bugs' behavior less.

As sad as this new knowledge is, it does make a lot of sense, especially given how erratic bugs seem to act when confronted with an artificial light source — the same effect that led to the extremely bizarre moth lamp memes of yore.

More on bugs: Furious Fire Ants "Rain Down" on Hawaiian Residents and Bite Them In Their Sleep

Share This Article