a community newspaper serving western Albemarle County

Night Lighting Is Harmful to Our Insects

By Marlene Condon

Burn lights only when absolutely necessary to avoid harming our wildlife, ourselves, and the integrity of our environment. (Photo: Marlene Condon)

My writing day does not get started until I’ve had my breakfast and exercise, both of which occur very early in the morning. I love getting out onto the roadways when it’s still rather dark so I can hear the natural world awaken and watch the changing palette of colors as the sun rises into the eastern sky.

Because I’m out so early, I see the many houses that have bright lights burning needlessly overnight. Some homes have very bright lights by the front door or cellar entryway while others have them over the garage. In other yards, a lamp post or even a utility light pole illuminates the front yard.

I suppose folks burn these lights to feel safer, but studies have shown that bright lighting does not deter crime. If it did, no burglaries should occur in the daytime, but in fact, more than half of them do.

Burglars require light to see what they are doing so it’s far better if your home is dark outside at night. Then a burglar will need to use a flashlight, which will draw attention to him if someone is watching.

If you feel that you absolutely must have lighting to ease your mind, then it would be best to use motion sensor lighting that only comes on when movement is detected and that goes off within a set period of time. But it would be far better for folks—and our environment—if people instead invested in better locks and bolts.

The reason to avoid using electricity whenever possible is to limit mutilation of our world (think mountain-top removal for coal); to limit pollution of our air and waterways (caused by burning coal to create electricity); and even more importantly, to limit the killing of insects that help to keep the environment functioning properly.

Numerous kinds of insects are so strongly attracted to illumination that they will stay near it most or all of the night. These insects may circle a light until they become exhausted; by staying around the light, they neglect to mate or eat; and these insects become easy prey for their predators, creating an unfair advantage that can result in over-predation of the population.

The idea that insects are important to our own lives may seem rather abstract. People usually understand that we need some kinds of these six-legged creatures to pollinate plants in order to obtain seeds or fruits for consumption by humans. But folks often don’t realize that insects do much more than help to provide food for us.

Some kinds feed on decaying organic matter to recycle it ultimately back to the soil for the benefit of growing plants. Some species of insects feed upon other kinds of animals, such as spiders and even slugs and snails to limit their numbers to sustainable levels. And the insects themselves serve as a vital food source for many birds, bats, and small mammals.

Sadly, insects generally get a bad rap. Although some of these animals (such as mosquitoes, ticks, and roaches) can be bothersome or cause illness in some instances, insects should not be vilified as if they exist simply to harm mankind.

I could scream when I hear the press releases put out every month of the year by the National Pest Management Association, which are presented as “public service announcements.” The ads overstate the problems caused by a variety of critters, including mammals and birds in addition to insects and spiders. The most egregious aspect of all is that the association uses children to pitch their deceptively worded ads!

The reality is that man can—and must—coexist with a variety of critters, all of which play important roles in our environment.

For example, the larvae of mosquitoes feed the fish—which many folks like to catch— in our streams. Ticks are a food source for insectivorous birds and mammals (which find the ticks when grooming themselves) that people enjoy watching. And the bits of food you’ve dropped on the floor or counter are recycled much more quickly by roaches than by bacteria and fungi that would otherwise need to deal with it.

Once you understand your fellow inhabitants of the earth, you can figure out how to avoid problems with them: Wear a long-sleeved shirt and long pants when in mosquito-populated areas; wear shorts  in tick country (you can more easily see and feel ticks crawling on your skin if it’s not covered up); and try not to leave food debris on the floors and counters to make your home inhospitable to roaches.

Knowledge greatly reduces fear of the unknown. When you understand the functions of various creatures in our world, you can be more tolerant of their activities. You can also control, at least somewhat, your interactions with them.

© Marlene A. Condon 

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