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What is the best lighting to help keep the bugs away from your RV site?  Can the lighting use around your RV help deter those annoying critters from coming around and ruining your great RVing experience?  There is some research on the effect lights have on bugs, and what types of light might attract insects more than others.  In short, red and yellow lights will tend to attract bugs less than blue or white lighting.   There is no particular light type or color which will eliminate the bugs, but knowing why insects are attracted to light and what lighting is most likely to draw insects will help you set up your campsite to be fun for people, not insects.

Why are insects attracted to light?

Insects are attracted to light due to a phenomenon called phototaxis.  Insects are considered to be positively phototactic if they are insect’s to light such as the case with moths, flies, and mosquitos.  If they are repelled by the light they are considered to be negatively phototactic such as the case with cockroaches.

There are several theories which developed as to why certain insects are attracted to lights. 

One theory suggests the lights act as a navigational guide.  Due to the great distance from the insect, natural light sources such as the moon appear to the insect at a constant angle.  This constant angle is believed to help them navigate.  An artificial light source, which so much closer than the moon, confuses the insect.  As the moves toward the artificial light, the angle changes more dramatically, causing the insect to adjust its flight path to the constantly changing angle.  As the insect gets closer to the light source, the change is more and more dramatic causing the insect to circle in toward the light.

There is also a theory based on the idea that the insect uses the light source to indicate the flight path is clear.  A light source would be blocked by any obstacle.  An unobstructed light source would cause an insect to fly directly toward the light source.

Another theory suggests the insects mistake the artificial light for flowers and think it is a source of food.  The light reflected from colorful flora would indicate to the insect there is a meal waiting to be had. 

Each of these theories each has there own problems.  Since artificial light has been around for thousands of years natural selection and evolution would have taken its toll on the insect population.  Insects by the millions would have been confusing campfires going back to the caveman days for the moon and would have undergone suicidal dive missions into the flames, potentially eliminating entire species of insects.

Insects are still around so they are not dying in campfires everywhere. Scientists have yet to make up their minds about exactly why insects are attracted to artificial lights.  To make a better RVing experience, we should look at which lights attract insects the most.

Which colors are bug most attracted to?

You do not have to be an entomologist to know that there are many species of insects which are attracted to light.  It is determining which light is most likely to attract bug which will help deter them from ruining your RV or camping experience. 

Insects, in general, are very good at detecting ultraviolet (UV) radiation.  Most insects have two types of photoreceptive organs (compound eyes and ocelli).  It is the elongated bundle of photoreceptor cells in the compound eye which can expand the insect’s ability to be sensitive to UV light.

Visible Light Spectrum
Visible Light Spectrum

If you look at the wavelength spectrum, you will see UV light among the shorter wavelength lights of the violets, blues, and greens.  The photoreceptor cells of most nocturnal (most active at night) flying insects peak in sensitivity to UV, violet, blues, and green lights.  The sensitivity trails off for many of these bugs as the spectrum moves toward the yellow, orange, and red colors.

Backyard insect killers such as bug zappers have been using the insect’s sensitivity to UV light to lure insects to their death successfully for many years.  Reducing UV light emission will keep those bug from being attracted to your RV site.

White light contains all wavelengths of light.  That white light bulb next to your RV entrance door may be the reason there are so many flying critters making there way inside at night.  The UV, violet, blue, and green wavelengths are contained within the white light being emitted.   Yellow, orange, and red lighting can reduce the attractiveness of your site for bugs.  

What type of light are bugs most attracted to?

In general, if you want to attract a lot of insects at night, turn on your old, outside, incandescent porch light and flying critters from all over your property will congregate like tourists to a world wonder.

A study posted on the American Association for the Advancement of Science website looked at the basic types of lamps in common use.  They looked at the effects of incandescent, CFL (Compact Fluorescent Lamp), halogen, LED and the general yellow “bug” lights.  The study used each of the six types of lights to trap thousands of insects to determine which type of lamp was more, or less, attractive to insects.

Incandescent Lamp

The good old incandescent lamp showed the highest capture rate.  CFL captured the next highest number of bugs followed by, halogen, LED with a cool color temperature (blue/ cool white), and the yellow “bug” light.  An LED lamp with a warmer color temperature (yellow/orange/red) had the lowest capture rate.

This study shows, shifting lighting sources from the traditional incandescent lights toward the warmer LED lights used on your RV on your campsite will greatly reduce the impact of the lighting on insects. 

Besides being less attractive to bugs, LED lighting lasts longer, consumes less power (very useful when boondocking), produces more light, and are available in a range of colors (some can even change colors on demand). 

LED Lighting Outside

What about mosquitoes (they bite)?  Are mosquitos attracted to light?

As with most insects, mosquitoes will find that flow of artificial light, or your campfire, quite attractive. Mosquitoes are initially attracted to artificial light because they, like other insects, use light for navigation and the artificial light interrupts that navigation and confuses the mosquito causing them to flight right toward, and circle around, the light source.

The lights are only one part of the problem when it comes to mosquitoes. Along with many other bugs, UV light does a good job at attracting mosquitoes. But, according to the University Of Florida, Institute Of Food & Agricultural Sciences, mosquitoes as other biting insects are more attracted to the carbon dioxide exhaled and passed through the skin by humans.

Mosquitoes are very good at detecting carbon dioxide. They can actually detect carbon dioxide levels as low as 50 parts per million. Lighting may actually draw a large number of mosquitoes in close enough to your RV campsite to allow them to hone in on the output of carbon dioxide. This will help increase the number of biting insects.

Using the lighting in the longer wavelengths of the yellow, orange, and reds may help reduce the number of mosquitoes drawn in to your site but it will not keep them from moving in for the bite. The only real way to ward off those mosquitoes and other biting insects is with an insect repellent.

The most effective insect repellents use, a sometimes controversial, active ingredient called DEET. DEET has been in the marketplace over 50 years and is the best weapon against mosquitoes and other biting insects. The oil can help repel biting insects for hours but some people may have had bad reactions while using it. Back in the 1980’s, a study conducted by the Everglades National Park employees found 1/4th of the subjects in the study experience negative health effects which were blamed on DEET. In 1998, and again in 2014, the EPA conducted re-assessments of DEET and concluded that it DOES NOT present a health concern when used properly.

Use lighting to your advantage

When setting up my RV campsite I have started to use lighting to my advantage in keeping annoying bugs at bay.

Along the top of my RV, under the awning an LED multi-color light strip helps illuminate my site. The light strip can be changed remotely to many color combinations. Keeping this LED strip yellow, orange, or red, helps reduce the number of flying insects drawn to the site and the RV doors.

A blue LED strip under the RV will help draw insects away from the sitting areas and toward the underbelly of the RV. Other violets, blues, or UV type lights are strategically placed in the back of my site, away from our sitting areas to help draw those critters away.

Sometimes, I will string lights through the trees or around the site.  A light strip with LED which can change colors help me control how attractive the lights are to insects.  If we are sitting at the table close to the RV, I can change the light color to blue or white which will help draw the insects away from us.  When we are sitting out by the fire and near those lights, I change the color to red.

Conclusion

While no lighting will every repel biting insects, studies do show some colors and light types will be more attractive than others. Keeping the sitting areas and RV entrances illuminated in those wavelength colors such as yellows, oranges, and reds will help keep down the number of flying insects attracted to your site. Using the shorter wavelength UV, violets, and blue lights farther away from your sitting area may help direct those annoying critters away.

An effective biting insect mitigation plan is a combination of lighting and repellents, such as those containing DEET, which will work in concert to help you have a greatRVing experience.