Department of Energy Argonne National Laboratory Office of Science NEWTON's Homepage NEWTON's Homepage
NEWTON, Ask A Scientist!
NEWTON Home Page NEWTON Teachers Visit Our Archives Ask A Question How To Ask A Question Question of the Week Our Expert Scientists Volunteer at NEWTON! Frequently Asked Questions Referencing NEWTON About NEWTON About Ask A Scientist Education At Argonne Bugs and lights, what's the attraction?
Name:  doug moe
Status: N/A
Age: N/A
Location: N/A
Country: N/A
Date: 1999


Question:
My kids want to know why insects are attracted to lights, that is, why do they fly towards lights all of the time. Even after getting burned by the light, they still keep on doing it.


Replies:
The following is from "It's Raining Frogs and Fishes" by Jerry Dennis.

"There seems little reason a moth should be distracted from its business of sipping nectar and avoiding predators by something as dangerous as an artificial light. Yet, porch lamps and streetlights are irresistible beacons to moths. Moths circle the light as if mes- merized, in frenzied, dizzy orbits. Once caught in their blind orbits, moths become easy prey for bats and nighthawks, or they batter themselves to death, or singe their wings to uselessness on hot surfaces, or die of exhaustion. And nobody knows why."

Although nobody knows why, here are a couple of theories (also from the abovementioned book):

Moths may be naturally attracted to a bright moon, causing them to fly higher and helping to disperse the species over a wider range. If this is the case, then moths may be mistaking artificial lights for the moon.

Another similar idea is that moths navigate by the moon or the stars. Thus a moth trying to go in a straight line could do so by keeping the moon always to the same side. This navigation method would fail for artificial lights, possibly causing the moths to endlessly circle the light source.

-Grant



Click here to return to the General Topics Archives

NEWTON is an electronic community for Science, Math, and Computer Science K-12 Educators, sponsored and operated by Argonne National Laboratory's Educational Programs, Andrew Skipor, Ph.D., Head of Educational Programs.

For assistance with NEWTON contact a System Operator (help@newton.dep.anl.gov), or at Argonne's Educational Programs

NEWTON AND ASK A SCIENTIST
Educational Programs
Building 360
9700 S. Cass Ave.
Argonne, Illinois
60439-4845, USA
Update: June 2012
Weclome To Newton

Argonne National Laboratory