WATCH: How our bright lights harm insects that glow

Artificial light is bad news for a wide range of wildlife, but it can be a particular challenge for a unique subset of species: those that make their own glow. “With bioluminescent creatures, you can make a really direct line between what light pollution does and their survival,” said Avalon Owens, a Rowland Fellow at Harvard University who studies fireflies and other insects. Though humans have been lighting up the darkness for a long time, it’s only fairly recently – with the advent of electricity and, later, LED bulbs – that brighter nights have started to cause significant consequences for the natural world, including animals that aren’t bioluminescent. Artificial light can meddle with important behaviors and biological cycles – like hunting or circadian rhythms – that are informed by light exposure. “The cycles of light and dark have been so stable for so long that [wildlife] don’t have a response to suddenly having incredibly bright lighting in the middle of the night,” said Jeremy Niven, a professor of zoology at the University of Sussex. There is plenty of glittering marine life, but the phenomenon on land is largely limited to bioluminescent fungi and a handful of animals. That includes glow-worms and fireflies, which belong to the same taxonomic family, Lampyridae. For both of those insects that depend on bioluminescence to mate, recent research shows that artificial light can disrupt their ability to attract potential partners. This post was produced by Megan McGrew, Bella Isaacs-Thomas, Jackie Hai, Julia Griffin, and Molly Finnegan. Stream your PBS favorites with the PBS app: Find more from PBS NewsHour at Subscribe to our YouTube channel: Follow us: TikTok: Twitter: Instagram: Facebook: Subscribe: PBS NewsHour podcasts: Newsletters:

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