—This piece by Pat Cahalan first appeared in our WildfloraRI, Spring 2021

Xanthotype urticaria (false crocus geometer moth), Cumberland, RI

Xanthotype urticaria (false crocus geometer moth), Cumberland, RI. photo DMcGrady

You’ve covered the basics—planted natives for the pollinators, done away with insecticides and other harmful chemicals, and are whittling away at that huge monoculture so beloved in suburbia, the lawn. Now what? What more can you do to make your yard more wildlife friendly?

Consider the nocturnal fliers—the moths, fireflies, bats and other denizens of the dark. Moths are among the most valuable pollinators in the garden, and their larvae are an important protein source for birds, particularly nestlings. Scientists still aren’t sure why moths and other night-flying insects are attracted to artificial light, but there’s no doubt it’s all too often a fatal attraction. Moths knock themselves out banging against the light source, and the light makes them easy prey for bats, birds and spiders.

And bug zappers are never a good idea. They are virtually useless for controlling biting bugs but all too good at wiping out hordes of harmless or beneficial insects. In one study, researchers found that of the 13,789 insects killed during a single summer season by one typical bug zapper, only 31 were biting insects. The rest were benign or beneficial.

When simply turning out the lights isn’t practical:

  • Install motion-sensor lighting. It’s only activated when needed, limiting the exposure to night fliers.
  • Use directional covers on outdoor lights. Direct light downwards along pathways
    and steps, and don’t spotlight your specimen trees, to cite just two examples.
  • Dim the lights. Choose low-voltage lighting, yellow or red bulbs, and LED lights with warm color temperatures, all of which seem to attract fewer night fliers.
  • Lower the shades in rooms that are lit at night.