Nighttime Bug Watching

Katja Schulz

movie iconView Blacklighting in Box Canyon then investigate bugs at night on your own!

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Click on an image to view larger version & data in a new window

Bugs attracted to a porch light at night. © 2006 Anah

Observing Bugs at Night

Many insects are attracted to light. You don’t need to go out to the desert or the mountains to observe insects at night. Many species live in the city, so you can make great observations around any light source such as:

Utilizing these light sources, you can explore your yard and you can also get your parents to go out with you on a nightime bug watching walk in your neighborhood. Go from street light to street light, or take a lantern, put it down in different spots and then wait for insects to come.

Some Variables That Will Affect What You Will See 

You will get different kinds of insects depending on:

What You May See:

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Click on an image to view larger version & data in a new window

Some insects you may see in your neighborhood at night: A moth and a cranefly, © 2005 Jenn Forman Orth. A praying mantis munching on a cockroach © 2005 Owen Rodda. A lacewing © 2006 talkingplant.

How to Observe, Equipment and How to Use It

Don’t just hurry from light to light.  Stick around and observe what’s going on in  a particular spot.  You may make some great observations!

Insects on a sheet reflecting light from a fluorescent blacklight. © 2006 Michelle Lanan

Techniques for Attracting More Bugs 

In order to attract even more insects, you can get a small blacklight (available for about $20 on the internet).  If your parents have an emergency car flashlight with a fluorescent bulb, you can also get a blacklight bulb at a hardware store and turn it into an instant bug light. 

Whether you are using a real blacklight or a camping lantern, it always helps to boost your light by having it reflected off a white sheet.  You can put the sheet down on the ground and put your light on top of it; even better, you can hang up the sheet (using a rope and clothespins) and then suspend your light in front of it.  Insects will fly in from all directions and settle on the sheet where it’s easy for you to observe them and collect them.

Click on an image to view larger version & data in a new window
Click on an image to view larger version & data in a new window

Professional nighttime bug hunters: University of Arizona graduate students collecting insects from a blacklight sheet in Box Canyon. © 2006 Michelle Lanan

Things to think about

  1.  Why do insects come to lights?
  2.  Why are insects out at night?

Learning Information

About This Page

This page was developed as part of the project "New Strategies for Life Sciences Outreach in Arizona: Developing a Digital Library of Audio and Video Features in the Context of the Tree of Life Web Project" funded by the “Anyplace Access for Arizonans” Initiative under the University of Arizona Technology and Research Initiative Fund.

Smithsonian Institution, National Museum of Natural History, Washington, DC, USA

Correspondence regarding this page should be directed to Lisa Schwartz at and Katja Schulz at

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