Bugs swarming a bright street lamp creating ALAN (artificial light at night)

The dark side of camp lighting: Is "bug" lighting real?

Amber color lights are growing in popularity in the overlanding and automotive accessories industry. 

Kingpin receives weekly inquiries about amber color lighting, usually because the customer would like a "bug lighting" option. Having grown up in the south, we totally get it. Bugs surrounding camp sucks. Unfortunately, big industry has lied to all of us. The web is ripe with websites making grossly incorrect claims about "bug lighting".

For our customers sake, we decided to research the subject thoroughly to better understand if there was any real, measurable, scientific benefit to amber color lighting over other colors in reducing bugs. 

What we discovered shocked us. 

So why are bugs even attracted to light? 

Contrary to popular belief, apparently they aren't. You're likely imagining all the times you've witnessed bugs swarming lights at night.

Sure, but it's not because of what you and I have assumed for so long. Bugs aren't actually "attracted" to lights.

Wait, what?  

According to researchers, a bugs tendency to move toward or away from light is referred to as "positive or negative phototaxis". Scientist agree that bug phototaxis is really complex and driven mostly by factors such as light type (ex. LED vs incandescent), intensity, heat, environmental conditions, emitted frequencies, and as you'll learn below, controversially, color. Also, like most living things, insects exhibit circadian rhythms in movement, reproduction and feeding that are closely tied to light, temperature and chemical cues.

Many scientists align with the theory that bugs are always traveling and rely on moonlight for navigation and guidance. The bugs simply mistake artificial light at night for the moon. Bugs can often become disoriented, exhausted, and even die as a result of artificial light because their internal guidance system is confused and cannot recover. It might explain why we see such erratic flying behavior around light sources.

In summary, apparently some light fixtures appear more or less like the moon than others and scientist don't fully agree on all of the contributing factors. 

So does amber or yellow bug lighting work as advertised?

In short, no at all. We were shocked to find very little scientific data suggesting significant difference between LED colors. The biggest benefit actually comes from the use of LED technology over others and using LED dimmers to reduce intensity. 

The rest of this section outlines our study:

Amber and yellow color lights have long been advertised as alternatives to white lights to minimize bugs. The very same marketing is now finding its way into the overland and truck accessory industry. However, the research tells a different, much more complex story that might surprise you.

In this study published in the American Association for the Advancement of Science, researchers collected and catalogued 8887 insects and spiders from a neighborhood in Appomattox, Virginia. Although factors that influence a light's attractiveness to bugs is complex, the study revealed clear winners and losers:

 Kingpin ALAN led lighting outdoor camping overland trucks

As you can see above, light bulb type matters more than anything. Incandescent bulbs brought in the largest insect haul, averaging about eight bugs per hour. The yellow "bug lights" and warm-colored (3000K) LEDs were roughly tied for least attractive to bugs, at about 4.5 bugs/hr. The yellow bug lights actually had a downside; they collected the highest quantities of a few specific types of bugs. Notice the difference between cool white and yellow is 0.5 bug/hr - negligible. 

The study even goes on to say, "Although the average bug capture rates of these two bulbs (Cold and Warm LED) were never significantly different from each other, the warmer color temperature LED should be favored over the cooler color temperature LED for residential use." Not sure why the author added an opinion that doesn't clearly align with the data. . . 

Another study backs up these findings; "We conducted field experiments to compare the relative attractiveness of four commercially available “domestic” lights, one traditional (tungsten filament) and three modern (compact fluorescent, “cool‐white” LED and “warm‐white” LED), to aerial insects, particularly Diptera (Mosquitos). We found that LEDs attracted significantly fewer insects than other light sources, but found no significant difference in attraction between the “cool‐” and “warm‐white” LEDs."

We found another research paper that mirrored the results of the two studies above, but also suggests amber color lighting is at least slightly better than yellow and white respectively for minimizing bug "attraction". This experiment was conducted deep in the Jungles of Peru. The conclusion basically suggests that warmer color is better than colder colors. The conclusion is questionable to us, however, because the purpose of the experiment was to validate a predictive computer model in Peru, not necessarily isolate and study this phenomenon explicitly. Interestingly, and with so many contradictory papers out there, this paper seems to have sparked a number of popular articles about ALAN in 2021. It's also worth mentioning this study reveals that some nuisance bug species are actually far more attracted to the amber colored light than colder colors. The results from this study can be seen below:

kingpin led light overland truck ALAN bug light 

Science aside, amber and yellow lighting may not be suitable for all outdoor lighting applications. Does anyone prefer to work under orange or yellow light? Many people don't find it very pleasant. Psychology Today actual says, "Natural light has the potential to enhance people’s mood, creativity, and cognitive performance." In certain applications, such as street lighting and DOT legal lighting, it is important to maintain high visibility and ensure public safety. White lighting has always been the preferred choice due to its ability to provide better illumination and properly simulate natural light.

In summary, the research shows that using LED over other technologies is the best thing you can do to minimize bugs. Reducing light intensity by dimming has the second highest impact. LED lighting color appears to be statistically insignificant in most regions compared to these two factors. Choose amber color lighting if you prefer the appearance, not because it advertises "lower bug attraction". 

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