Artificial Light from Porch Lights, Smartphones “disorient monarch butterflies — making their internal GPS system go haywire” (Study)

By B.N. Frank

Research has already determined that artificial light (aka “blue light”) from screens as well as “energy-efficient” CFL and LED lightbulbs are biologically and environmentally harmful (see 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8).  Nevertheless, LED bulbs continue to be promoted for home use, streetlights, etc.  In fact, last month the Department of Energy (DOE) announced it will provide funding for LED bulbs to be installed in low-income homes, and the Biden Administration took additional steps to end the production of safer bulbs.  Recently a study revealed again how butterflies are being affected.

From Study Finds:

Your porch light — and even smartphone — can make monarch butterfly ‘GPS’ go haywire

by Jocelyn Solis-Moreira

CINCINNATI — Monarch butterflies are beautiful creatures to watch, but it turns out your backyard lights may actually be confusing their senses. New research by a team at the University of Cincinnati has found that exposure to porch lights or even the glow of your cellphone can disorient monarch butterflies — making their internal GPS system go haywire.

“We found that even with a single work light that you find at a construction site, monarch butterflies treat that like it’s the sun,” says Patrick Guerra, a UC professor and co-author of the study, in a university release.

Artificial light at night messes with a butterfly’s circadian rhythm and the processes involved in when to take flight and when to rest. Monarch butterflies rely on specific proteins that fine-tune their internal compass and tell which direction to fly to the south and how to return. Nighttime light pollution could pose some risk to their annual migration from Canada to Mexico, where they spend the winter.

“It’s an important question given that many migrants fly through urban areas,” adds co-author Samuel Stratton. “Getting some ecological data would be really helpful to seeing what impacts light pollution can have on orientation and migratory outcomes.”

(Photo by Joshua J. Cotten on Unsplash)

Millions of monarch butterflies travel about 2,500 miles to sites in Mexico. It is a long cross-country journey that takes about five generations to make the roundtrip. Their circadian rhythm uses a biological clock that collects information on the Sun’s position to orient themselves.

In the current study, the researchers simulated the effects of light pollution on migratory animals that are often active in the daytime. The results showed that a single light at night, such as a streetlamp, can shift their clock to thinking it’s daytime — throwing off their sense of time. Some butterflies with “jetlag” may think it is earlier or later in the day.

“We found that you’re messing with their day-night cycle. Light pollution can make them think that the day is longer or that the day starts sooner,” explains study co-author Adam Parlin.

The study authors suggest the best thing people can do to help monarch butterflies is to simply turn off the porch lights at night. “It’s something to think about if you’re making a pollinator garden or if you want to be eco-friendly,” Guerra suggests.

The study is published in the journal iScience.

Jocelyn is a New York-based science journalist whose work has appeared in Discover Magazine, Health, and Live Science, among other publications. She holds a Master’s of Science in Psychology with a concentration in behavioral neuroscience and a Bachelor’s of Science in integrative neuroscience from Binghamton University. Jocelyn has reported on several medical and science topics ranging from coronavirus news to the latest findings in women’s health.

Activist Post reports regularly about blue light and unsafe technology.  For more information, visit our archives.

Top image: Pixabay

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