New LED Lights Are Stopping Insects Before They Bite Us And Give Us Diseases

Less blue light may mean fewer mosquitoes–and fewer infections.

Insects are attracted to light, but not to all types of light equally. It happens that when you put out different parts of the light spectrum, the little critters are less interested in invading your home and causing menace.


That is the conclusion of a new paper looking at the effect of new LED fixtures on insects. When researchers tuned lights away from traditional blue and ultraviolet wavelengths, insects were much less likely to come inside. The work is important because, of course, insects do a lot of damage: Millions of people still die from insect-borne diseases, like malaria and dengue. Potentially, distributing new types lightbulb could curb how these diseases spread.

“The research provides proof in concept that LED lamps can be customized to avoid specific areas of the spectrum that could have adverse environmental consequences, while still providing light for indoor use,” says lead author Travis Longcore, a professor at the University of Southern California. “For places in the world where glass windows and screens are uncommon, reducing insect attraction to indoor lights is a big deal.”

Longcore teamed up with André Barroso, a scientist with the Philips lighting group in Holland, which makes LED lights. They compared bulbs customizable to different wavelengths with standard LED bulbs (which still produce blue light), compact fluorescent (“energy efficient”) bulbs, and a control with no bulb at all. The special bulbs attracted 20% fewer insects than the others, despite emitting a more intense light.

There could be more than one reason for us to move away from the blue end of the light spectrum. Research shows that blue light is more disruptive to our sleep patterns and our basic physiology. Some scientists claim that exposure to night-time blue light increases our risk of cancer, obesity, and diabetes.

In other words, new types of tunable LED could help us both with circadian disruption and with insect problems. “The implications [of this research] may persuade lighting engineers to follow a new standard that extends beyond display, price, and durability, to include improved environmental and human health outcomes as well,” the paper says.

About the author

Ben Schiller is a New York staff writer for Fast Company. Previously, he edited a European management magazine and was a reporter in San Francisco, Prague, and Brussels.