Lights out for local wildlife 

Published 1:05 pm Wednesday, June 22, 2022

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When you look at earth from a satellite perspective at night, it is never dark. Buildings and homes light up the sky and create an artificial environment that disrupts nocturnal wildlife. 


Light pollution is an often overlooked effect of our modern ways, and one that causes a negative impact on native wildlife. Artificial light causes behavioral changes in nocturnal creatures, such as fireflies, moths, bats, and more. And these behavioral changes can be harmful—and even fatal—to many valuable members of our ecosystems. 

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Fireflies are beloved creatures that create a spectacle that fascinates many. But in a recent study by entomologists Dr. Owens and Dr. Lewis of Tufts University, fireflies were found to be on the long list of nocturnal creatures that suffer from light pollution. Specifically, light disrupts their essential ability to reproduce. These scientists found that, “…all colors of artificial light significantly suppressed the courtship flashes of the firefly pairs.” If you want these unique creatures to stick around for generations to come, reducing light pollution is the best way to ensure their livelihood. 


Light pollution causes many negative impacts on these well-known nocturnal animals, such as bats. One of the most significant is on their feeding behaviors. Lights can delay the start of their feeding times significantly, causing starvation and in some cases even fatality. This can also negatively impact the growth and survival rates of their young. Less light pollution means more of these pest-controlling, pollinating heroes. 


Scientists have found that the attraction moths have to light causes them to lose their regular functionality. They wear themselves out flying around the lights, sacrificing the energy they need to survive and perform their duties as nighttime pollinators. Although bees and butterflies tend to take credit as major pollinators, recent research, such as from University College London, has shown that moths are major players in many pollination networks. Without these important creatures, many plants reliant on their pollination duties would suffer. 


Migratory birds, although not typically nocturnal, can be disoriented by light pollution when flying at night. This contributes to the hundreds of millions of birds estimated to die in building collisions in the United States every year. Reducing light pollution can reduce the needless losses of these essential creatures. 


The most effective solution to this problem is simple—turn your lights off at night. 


If you have necessary lights, however, consider a more conscious alternative. Timers, dimmers, or motion sensors are all options that could reduce your light pollution footprint. Tom Fanslow, Conserving Carolina’s Land Protection Director, also notes that, “replacing essential but light-wasting fixtures with ground-focused fixtures is part of the solution.”  


Another solution is having native plants in your yard as a natural light barrier. In a podcast called “In Defense of Plants,” entomologist Dr. Sara Lewis cites that, “Plants create a barrier… that blocks the amount of light that’s coming into [a habitat].” This creates a darker environment for the wildlife beyond your home. Planting native shrubs or trees is an effective way to make this natural barrier. And this not only benefits nocturnal wildlife, but also the ecosystem as a whole. 


To see the latest on the fight against light pollution and ways you can help, check out the International Dark Sky Association for more information. 


Submitted by Allison Houtz