Seeing the Light in a Wildlife Garden

A delta rocket launch momentarily interrupted the dark sky

We celebrate Earth Day on Sunday April 22, 2012, which gets us thinking about conservation of resources, providing habitat, etc., but how many of us think about the effect of artificial light on our backyard critters? April 14-20, 2012 is International Dark Sky Week, which should get us thinking about this often-overlooked problem.

Last weekend I manned the information table for my chapter of the Florida Native Plant Society at the annual Dark Sky Festival which takes place in Harmony, FL…not too far from my home. Harmony is a planned community that is green certified and has hundreds of acres of conservation area protected as wildlife habitat. They also have light ordinance that outlines the types of lighting fixtures acceptable for outdoor night lighting.

Night feeders, such as this southern toad can have their schedule upset by bright lights

Light pollution can cause havoc with many species. With a lot of press coverage, most people are aware of the affects of lighting on sea turtle nesting which confuses the baby turtles when they leave the nest. They are often drawn to the light of parking lots, houses and roadways instead of heading toward the water… not a good thing for newborns.

So, what does all this have to do with our own gardens?

Landscape lighting can create wasted light that can interfere with plant flowering and the activities of beneficial insects. I’m sure you’ve experienced a moth or other flying insect in your home, banging around into a light bulb, eventually doing itself in, tired or burned. Well, outdoor lighting can have that same affect. Certain insects, including pollinators and pest predators are attracted to light and wear themselves out fluttering around or are a captive food resource for other creatures drawn to the light. This can upset the balance of nature and we certainly don’t need additional pollinators being eliminated given the bee problems of recent time.

A treefrog hanging out on an outdoor light fixture

Other creatures can have their internal clocks upset by artificial night lighting as well. Frogs. Since there are insects to be eaten, frogs too will be attracted to the lights for an easy meal. What is to prevent them from getting burned or dehydrated by the heat of the bulb?

This treefrog was sitting atop the lightfixture just inches away from the bulb

Birds. According to, 100 million birds a year throughout North America die in collisions with lighted buildings and towers. Further, artificial lights can cause migrating birds to wander off course.

Mammals including humans can all be affected by artificial light. Many people often suffer from the doldrums during winter when the days are shorter. Don’t you always feel better during the summer when they are longer? In rats, artificial light at night suppressed melatonin production, and resulted in an increased rate of tumors. Secretly I’m not unhappy with this aspect given the recent invasion of my car engine by those darn pests. However, I still only have a light on when I need to walk outside and not trip over things.

IO Moths are sometimes seen during the day but prefer the dark sky

So, what can be done? Well, nature sometimes provides a little extra dark sky…think lunar eclipse and the longest night of the year. And, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission speaks of three steps to setting up landscape lighting so you can help prevent harm to wildlife via lighting pollution:

Keep it LOW (mounting the fixture as low as possible)

Keep it SHIELDED (fully shielding the light so bulbs and/or glowing lenses are not visible)

Keep it LONG as in wavelengths (use ambers and reds)

Create your landscape around the dark sky….Nature will love you for it

Other things you can do is to start by only buying lighting fixtures that are recommended for use around wildlife. Turn out your lights unless they are necessary to safety. Put timers and/or dimmers on your lights. You’ll reduce your carbon footprint and save money in the process…another bonus. Look up at the stars…it will get you appreciating the wonders of a dark sky. Talk it up…mention the affect of light pollution on our wildlife when conversing with others. Download the “Light Pollution and Wildlife” brochure as a handout. You’ll be helping the earth, wildlife and maybe even yourself. Step out of the dark and promote our dark sky!

© 2012 – 2013, Loret T. Setters. All rights reserved. This article is the property of We have received many requests to reprint our work. Our policy is that you are free to use a short excerpt which must give proper credit to the author, and must include a link back to the original post on our site. Please use the contact form above if you have any questions.

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  1. says

    Great post Loret, we have been advocating for fewer street lights in our neighborhood and many municipalities are willing to turn them off to save money. I love our dark landscape, just have to watch out for toads underfoot.
    Heather recently posted..It’s a Bee Eat Bee World

  2. says

    Great topic, Loret, and one that does need to be thought about.. talked about more. We have no street lights where I live YAY! So it is pretty dark except for neighbors’ landscape or leaving porch lights on. I have one neighbor who insists on having one of those big burglar-type lights on all night long, even when he is not home! It is so annoying seeing the glow from it when I am looking at the starry night sky. Sigh. Big guy, too. What’s he afraid of? Think that will keep a burglar away? I say, it will make it easier for the burglar to see what he is doing.
    Kathy @nativegardener recently posted..Monticello Says Goodbye to its Long Time Gardener

    • says

      Good point. Why light up the area so they can see what is worth stealing?

      Here it would be dark, but two nearby residents opted to have streetlights which is a personal choice here (except at school bus locations). The one is rather annoying to me and I wish that it had a proper light fixture to help keep our sky dark.

      I guess it all is from one’s perspective however….I had a friend from NY visit and she went out for a night walk down the driveway for some fresh air and wildlife listening. She came back in amazed at how many stars we had. I told her we have the same as NY, just can see them better because the sky is so much more visible without glare.
      Loret recently posted..Do Birds Mourn?

  3. Martyne Bailey says

    Wonderful article. I wish I could shout it out to the world. There is a reason I named my dog Luna! She loves her evening outing under the moon and stars.

  4. says

    Fantastic piece. It’s definitely something I’ve thought about and we deliberately turn off lights all the time when they’re not needed and have very soft lighting around the verandah of our place. We’re lucky enough to be living in a semi-rural area where there are very few street lights and very very little light pollution at all. We get to see star-laden night skies all the time, so I imagine the wildlife would be very comfortable in the rather dark night environment around here.
    Bernieh recently posted..Snapshots of Mid-Autumn … It’s An April Garden Bloggers’ Bloom Day.

  5. says

    Great topic and one I do think about especially since moving to a small village from the rural woods of Maine. I do miss that dark, dark sky. There is now a street light on our corner. The bulb is fully encased and doesn’t shine skyward, however. Curious, I read somewhere to keep a toad light to attract insects for toads? That doesn’t sound like such a good idea after reading your post and thank you, the brochure. I like to use solar lights in my garden – just enough to light the walkway or a path, low to the ground and they gradually fade out during the night. I see more soft solar lighting around the neighborhood now. It’s rare that I see one of those big security lights in our neighborhood – you know the three spot light deal that turns on like a fully lit stadium when you step too close, or a bright burning porch light. It’s nice to sit outside evenings in the dark and watch the stars.
    thevioletfern recently posted..Project: Bottle Border


  1. […] This week I ran into an insect that I haven’t seen very often in my garden.  It probably is too busy with auditions, having once been the headliner of its own episode of CSI NY.  Why hang around my place, far from the theater and Hollywood, although it would be a nice vacation spot away from the glare of the lights. […]

  2. […] As humans expand into more rural areas, we create a constant state of “twilight” in the habitats all around us. This affects mating habits, feeding patterns, and navigational skills of many mammals, birds, amphibians, reptiles and insects. Researchers are just beginning to understand the total effect of artificial light at nighttime on ecosystems. […]

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