Questions for ‘Which way is up? Insects may lose track near artificial lights’

Multiple images of a yellow brimstone butterfly are shown via motion capture. The insect is flying in circles, with its back pointing toward an illuminated tube light inside a flight arena at Imperial College London.

A brimstone butterfly (Gonepteryx rhamni) is shown in multiple locations using motion-capture. The insect appears to try to keep its back toward a tube light as it flits around. This may explain why flying insects seem to lose their sense of direction around artificial lights.

Thomas Angus

To accompany ‘Which way is up? Insects may lose track near artificial lights


Before Reading:

  1. What do you observe about insect behavior at night when a light is turned on? What is a possible reason for this behavior? In one sentence, provide a possible theory.
  2. Imagine two moths flying around a lamp at night. Sketch a picture of the moths and lamp. Include in your sketch the orientation of the moths relative to the lamp. In other words, are they facing toward the light, away from it or one in each direction?
  3. Watch the video embedded in the Science News Explores article. What do you observe about the orientation of the moths’ bodies to the light bulb? Was your original prediction from question 2 correct? What could this behavior tell you about the effects of artificial light on the moths? Explain.

During Reading:

  1. What does new data suggest about why certain insects appear “captivated” by light?
  2. Describe one of the previous hypotheses regarding the behavior of flying insects around a nighttime light source.
  3. Describe how insects naturally orient themselves relative to a light source according to this new study.
  4. What advantage would this orientation provide to an insect flying in sunlight?
  5. What is an entomologist? Give an example of one from the article and explain how your example fits the definition.
  6. List two types of equipment used in this study.
  7. Surprising scientific findings often lead to more questions. What is one question that scientists now have as a result of the findings described in this article?

After Reading:

  1. How important is it for a flying insect to gauge its location relative to the ground, such as how high it is flying or whether it is facing upward or downward? Is accuracy important, somewhat important or unnecessary? Explain your answer.
  2. This study found that artificial light affected fruit flies less strongly than moths and dragonflies. Read through this article and find a potential reason for this difference. Explain your theory, being sure to describe how this reason could contribute to differences in light sensitivity.