The insect apocalypse is here and you’re playing a part in it

Updated: January 6, 2020

insect apocalypse Photo by Kesipun/Shutterstock

Cottagers can be forgiven, perhaps, for thinking that news of an insect apocalypse is potentially good news. After all, a summer without mosquitoes sounds lovely, doesn’t it? And a dearth of black flies? Who’d miss them?

Surely beer bugs, or rather Glischrochilus, contribute little other than contaminating a cold craft ale.

So if artificial lighting at the lake is part of bugs’ demise, well then, shine on, amirite?
Not so fast, says Dr. Brett Seymoure with the Living Earth Collaborative at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri, and one of the authors of a recent paper published in Biological Conservation about how artificial night lighting is part of the insect apocalypse.

Bugs are an integral part of a healthy planet, a key component of biodiversity. Even mosquitoes provide “ecosystem services,” says Dr. Seymoure, including attacking and feeding on algal blooms.

It’s not just the annoying insects that are being decimated it’s the ones we love too like the mayflies, damselflies, and fireflies. Figures suggest that close to half of all insect species will go extinct within a decade.

Seymoure and his colleague looked at more than 200 independent studies that pointed to artificial light leading to a significant loss of insects and biodiversity around the world, including outside of our cities, in their report Light Pollution is a Driver of Insect Declines.

The problem is that those dock lights, which cast such a lovely glow over the lake, mess with insects’ circadian rhythms, creating confusion around when to feed; when to mate, and it makes insects much more vulnerable to predation.

An insect that gets seduced by a lightbulb, thinking it’s a moon, is 30 per cent more likely to be eaten. “They are just doing their moth thing and someone stuck a big moon lightbulb there and they’re confused. And then they die,” says Dr. Seymoure, telling, perhaps, the saddest story of all time.

Those of us who don’t want metaphorical moth blood on our hands can take the very simple step of turning our outdoor lights off except when we’re actually using them, he says. “It’s that simple.”

Those who can’t or won’t give up their lights can use shields to direct light only where it’s required, he suggests. Or look for monochromatic long-wavelength LED lights, though there’s some concern that they might impact bugs negatively in other ways.

Even if we abolished all light pollution, insect populations would still be on the decline thanks to climate change, widespread pesticide use, and habitat destruction, says Dr. Seymoure.

But given how simple it is to remove a significant stressor, we’ve got little to lose, especially now that the horrifying image of a vulnerable bug endlessly circling a moon/lightbulb will be keeping all of us awake anyway. Turn off your lights and enjoy the sound sleep of an insect champion.

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