Moths are less attracted to light traps than they used to be

Ian Battles, Eric C Burkness, Michael S. Crossley, Collin B. Edwards, Kristian Holmstrom, William Hutchison, Joseph Ingerson-Mahar, David Owens, Avalon C.S. Owens

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


As evidence of global insect declines continues to mount, insect conservationists are becoming increasingly interested in modeling the demographic history of at-risk species from long-term survey data. However, certain entomological survey methods may be susceptible to temporal biases that will complicate these efforts. Entomological light traps, in particular, may catch fewer insects today than they once did due solely to increases in anthropogenic light pollution. Here we investigate this possibility by comparing the demographic histories of corn earworm moths (Helicoverpa zea) estimated from pairs of blacklight and pheromone traps monitored at the same farms. We find a stark decline in blacklight trap efficacy over 25 years of monitoring in Delaware, USA, mirrored over 10 years of monitoring in New Jersey, USA. While the precise causes of this decline remain a subject for discussion, the practical consequences are clear: insect conservationists cannot fully rely on long-term trends from entomological light traps.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalJournal of Insect Conservation
StateAccepted/In press - 2024

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© The Author(s) 2024.


  • Artificial light at night
  • Demographic history
  • Flight-to-light behavior
  • Helicoverpa zea
  • Light trap
  • Sampling bias


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