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Do Yellow Bug Light Bulbs Work?

Yellow Bug Lights

Ah…summertime. Warm weather, pool parties, barbecues, and bugs. Lots and lots of bugs. Few things can turn a summer day into utter misery faster than a swarm of flying insects.

You’ve tried greasy bug spray, citronella candles, Tiki torches, maybe even blowtorches. So we can imagine your surprise when you saw a yellow-colored “bug light bulb” at your local hardware store. Could it be true? Could screwing in a light bulb solve your bug problems for good?

To answer that question, let’s start by clearing up some myths about yellow incandescent bug lights and their energy-saving cousin, compact fluorescent bug lights. Bug lights do not kill bugs (you’ll need a bug zapper or Paraclipse fly trap for that), nor do bug lights repel bugs. Bug lights simply attract fewer bugs than other light bulbs. In short, a bug light will not magically solve your bug problem, but it will make you and your home less visible to most flying insects.

As discussed in a past article, light is divided into multiple wavelengths, measured in nanometers (nm), as you can see in the graph below. The human eye can only perceive a small band of wavelengths in the light spectrum, from about 390 to 750 nm. Insects perceive a similarly small band of the light spectrum, though their band of vision is shifted further to the “right” of the spectrum than ours. In fact, any wavelength higher than about 650 nm is virtually invisible to most flying insects.

Visible Light Spectrum

Image courtesy of Chemistryland.com

So why are bug lights yellow? Wavelength and color temperature have an inverse relationship, which you can also see in the graph. As the wavelength of a light source decreases, its color temperature increases (as according to Wien’s displacement law). Low color temperatures are red-yellow and exhibit a long wavelength, while high color temperatures are blue-violet and exhibit a short wavelength. By coloring a bulb yellow, then, the manufacturer has decreased the color temperature and in doing so increased the wavelength into a spectrum unseen by insects.

That’s the science of how bug light lights work, but the larger question is whether they are effective. From personal experience, I can say yes, they are. However, bug lights are not a panacea for all your bug problems. This is for a couple reasons. One is that not all insects are the same; different bugs see slightly different wavelengths. Second, no light source is made up of one, pure wavelength. Even an apparently yellow light may exhibit some shorter (and bluer) wavelengths that insects may still see.

To get the most out of your bug light, remember this: The bugs aren’t there because they like the light; they’re there because they like the smaller (and tastier) bugs that buzz around the light. If these smaller bugs sense any light whatsoever, it won’t be long before they buzz their way to bask in it. And once the small bugs are there, it won’t be long before the bigger bugs follow. Once that happens, you have a bug party on your hands, light or no light. The best thing to do to avoid a swarm of bugs is to turn the light off when you don’t need it.

 

We regularly get a large number of comments asking us about LED lights and how they mitigate bugs.  To help out, we’ve written a new article to give a more in-depth answer on whether or not LEDs help with insects at night!

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Benjamin is a writer for 1000Bulbs.com.

  • http://gravatar.com/wilhelmwanders wilhelmwanders

    fun to read – thanks!

  • bob johnston

    I heard somewhere that bugs cannot see the light from the new LED bulbs—-true or b.s.?

    • Benjamin Rorie

      Yes, that is true, though I am still researching the topic to learn why. My working theory is that LEDs emit little, if any, UV light, which is the part of the light spectrum that bugs find most appealing.

      Thanks for bringing up the topic. I’ll post an update as soon as I figure it out!

      • John

        Led bulbs are based on uv led’s combined with a phosphor coating that converts uv to visible light. Unless the phosphor is perfect, which is impossible, led bulbs will emit a lot of blue light and attract bugs.

        It is possible to make yellow led’s, but those will produce a lot less light than uv led’s with phosphor. So I suspect most led lights are big bug attractors.

        • http://www.1000bulbs.com Will Parsons

          LEDs typically emit less UV light than an standard incandescent or fluorescent, but yes, treated bulbs designed as bug lights are designed to block out all of the wavelengths seen by the most common bugs. While an LED will probably attract less bugs than a standard, untreated, light, it will still attract some insects.

  • GAry Kelley

    Our yellow LED light seems to attract a swarm of bugs. More than the white LED one did. We’re going to try the incandescent yellow to see if there is a difference. Why do you think that is?

    • Benjamin Rorie

      Thanks for the question, Gary. Without knowing the brand and part number of your LED bulbs, it’s hard to know for sure. However, it could be that the yellow bulb produces more heat than the white bulb, so that the heat and not the UV emission is attracting the bugs.

    • Luke

      Just because a light is “yellow” doesn’t mean it is absent the other visible light in a spectrum. It appears yellow because it has a peak wavelength that falls in the yellow range. It could have a secondary peak that has a shorter wavelength that is attracting the bugs.

      • Benjamin Rorie

        Excellent point, Luke. Couldn’t have said it better myself.

    • BrandyA

      Whatever is powering the light source means nothing. It could be that the yellow in the incandescent is a different color temperature than the yellow in the LED. And like the article said, bugs are attracted to light they can see, The yellow in your LED is just not the right one. I just bought CFLs because my fixture has started eating bulbs, for some reason. The yellow is much more brilliant, so we’ll see if it’s a hit or a miss.

  • Emison

    Baffling contradictions! I just bought one 60watt yellow Philips bulb with sub names: adios mosquitos and buglezzz. Paradoxically (Vis-à-vis the above explanations) here they instruct that the yellow bulb should be placed +/-4 metres from its white counterpart. I am confused! Meaning one attracts them and the other repels the same?

    • Benjamin Rorie

      Yellow bulbs repel bulbs, white bulbs attract bulbs. Put yellow bulbs in outdoor areas where you need light but don’t want bugs. I hope that clears things up.

  • Phil

    In Arizona, we used regular light bulbs in our entry way lights. The drew thousands of flying insects and along with them came hundreds of black widow spiders. Changed to the yellow fluorescent bulbs. Problem solved?

    • Jordan Loa

      Thanks for reaching out to us, Phil!

      Black widow spiders? That doesn’t sound good at all! However, as the article states, your yellow bug light will decrease the amount of bugs that flock to your bulb, but it will not completely solve your bug problem. The best way to lower your bug problem is to shut off the light when you don’t need it. However, if shutting off that bulb won’t work for you, I’d recommend you check out our insect control devices. Hope this helps!

  • Joseph Shepard

    How about a bulb with even longer wavelength, ie orange or orange-yellow?

    • Jordan Loa

      Thanks for the question, Joseph.

      Good news. Bulbs with a higher wavelength, like the orange and the orange-yellow lamps you mentioned, should have the same desirable effects as the yellow bulbs. Hope this helps!

  • Rose M.

    DO OTHER COLOR LIGHT BULBS(LIKE REGULAR BULBS-NOT THE NEWER KIND OF BULBS IN GREEN)WORK TO HELP DETER BUGS OR IS IT ONLY THE YELLOW BULB? THANKS…RLM FROM GEORGIA, WHERE THE OLD CLICHE’REALLY DOES APPLY: MOSQUITO IS OUR STATE BIRD!

    • Jordan Loa

      Thanks for the question, Rose!

      If you were to put just a regular bulb in the fixture, you’re probably going to have a huge bug party on your hands, so I suggest sticking with the yellow bulbs to decrease the number of winged pests. Hope this helps!

  • B. Barlow

    How many watts should a yellow outside bulb be?

    • Jordan Loa

      Great question here, B. Barlow!

      There’s no right or wrong answer here, as the number of watts you need is determined by how much light you need. We have 25, 40, 60, and 100-watt yellow bug lights, found here: http://www.1000bulbs.com/category/yellow-bug-light-bulbs/. Now, these are 130-volt bulbs, which last longer than 120-volt bulbs, but produce 24 percent less light than their 120-volt counterparts, so this is something to keep in mind when choosing your bulb. Hope this helps!

  • Doug Mellen

    I have a large number of Philips Hue bulbs which are app/network controllable and are capable of producing 64 million colors. Selecting the color you want is quite simple, you nearly move a marker over a picture (which you can choose) and it picks up and translates that color to the bulb. Since there are so MANY shades of yellow, I’m wondering if anyone knows of a photographic representation of a color that will work best. In reading above, “any wavelength higher than about 650 nm is virtually invisible to most flying insects” leads me to believe that colors made up of high nm numbers would be decreasingly visible to insects, i.e., orangish, reddish colors should work best. Thoughts?

    • Jordan Loa

      Excellent question here, Doug!

      To reaffirm what the article stated, an LED source with a warmer color temperature (650 nm and above) should not attract most flying insects, since these are likely not to provide UV radiation or short visible wavelengths.

      In regards to colors, yellows and reds have high energy at long wavelengths, while blue has low energy in the UV and short wavelengths. These colors have low insect attractiveness.

      Hope this helps!

  • Scott John

    What makes the bulb yellow? Is the glass treated?

    • http://www.1000bulbs.com Courtney Silva

      Hi Scott. Usually, yellow bulbs have been dipped in a high-temperature paint and that’s what gives them their color. Thanks for the question!

  • Elisabeth

    We would like to watch moths nectaring on flowers at night. Do you have any suggestions for a bulb that they won’t “see”?

    • http://www.1000bulbs.com Courtney Silva

      Thanks for the question, Elisabeth! Because insects cannot see the color yellow, a yellow light bulb would be great for what you’re looking to do. However, if you’re looking for a light that attracts them that they still can’t see, then we’re not exactly sure. If you can, it would be a good idea to check with your local agricultural office or entomology department at the nearest university. We hope this helps!

  • Walter

    I Think there is a source of pure yellow light, contrary to what was stated earlier. What about low pressure sodium vapor lamps? The light they produce is a very narrow part of the spectrum. The sodium spectrum is made of D-lines at 588.9950 and 589.5924 nanometers. There are spectral lines at other wavelengths, but they are much less intense. The spectrum of high pressure sodium vapor lamps is probably wider, and the light they produce is more intense.

    • http://www.1000bulbs.com Will Parsons

      Great point Walter, thanks for bringing that up. The yellow-coloured sodium emission from LPS lamps makes up about 90% of the light output from a regular lamp and attract very few bugs. The problem is that LPS lamps have very poor colour rendering and tend to give things an orange tinge.

  • Brent

    So would a red light work better than a yellow one?

    • http://www.1000bulbs.com Will Parsons

      Yes it would, but not by much. Few bugs can see in those higher wavelengths so switching to the higher wavelength red light would only remove a few extra bugs if they live around your home. Otherwise, things will be much the same. A red light will help preserve your night vision though, so that’s a bonus! Hope that helps.

      • Brent

        Hey thanks for your feedback fast response for such a long post

      • Tom

        Hi Will, Than ks for that. I use a video security system with IR and 520 LOR. Will the red you just mentioned help the night vision distance?m If not, do you know what would help? I am currently using a white bulb.

        • http://www.1000bulbs.com Will Parsons

          When used dimly, a red light allows you to see more detail on objects. The difference is how the lights stimulate your eye. The red colour lets you see finer details in dim light while the dim lighting allows you to recover your ability to see in the dark sooner.

          IR cameras do not use visible light to see. Flooding an area with red light will only marginally increase what’s visible on the camera if it’s filtering out the visible spectrum. Besides, if you use a strong enough red light everything will be visible anyway. You’ll need an IR light source to improve sight distance on your camera. Which means finding a lamp that emits light in the 800-700nm. Hope that answers your question.

  • Jeff

    Has there been any new research about LED light bulbs and if bugs can see them?

    • http://www.1000bulbs.com Will Parsons

      LEDs, like most lamps, emit light in the shortwave spectrum (the blue/UV side of light) so they can still be seen by bugs yes. LED bug lights are made, but bugs ignore them because of the coating on the bulb itself, not the LED chip.

      Again, anything that generates light above 800 nm will attract bugs.

  • David

    I have some inground lights that are mercury vapour and intend to keep the globs installed, but overlay the glass cover with a colour-tinted Acrylic diffuser. Can anyone suggest what the optimal specific colour ‘tint’ should be to deter moths?

    • http://www.1000bulbs.com Will Parsons

      The color is just yellow. If you want an exact match to bug lights, you could compare a color swatch to a standard bug light in a store. The goal is just to have yellow light though. Since different bugs see different wavelengths of light there is, unfortunately, no optimal tint.

  • https://www.facebook.com/TylerDMock Tyler Mock

    Just some theorizing. Any thought to having white lighting in a section that you aren’t occupying, and yellow in the area you want clear of the bug activity. Or possibly, a rainbow type effect that would go between orange red and yellow.

    • http://www.1000bulbs.com Will Parsons

      It depends on how far away the white lighting is. If the lamp is close enough, it will still attract bugs because it will add white light back into play nearby. If the light source is far enough away to not add white light to the yellow, it won’t be a problem. Remember, it’s about which colour light the bugs can actually see. If you add white light back in, even with a yellow light, they can still see it.

  • Dmitri Toptygin

    I have a “dusk-to-dawn” outdoor light by the entrance door to my house. With a 100W incandescent lamp it gives just the right amount of light. I tried to switch to a 23W CFL, but they are incompatible with the “dusk-to-dawn” switch, and after a few days either the switch goes bad, or the CFL goes bad (electrolytic capacitor inside the CFL electronic ballast bursts). Then I tried a LED lamp equivalent to 100W, and it works perfectly fine. There is only one problem. In the summer the adjacent wall of the house and the entrance door are covered by a carpet of insects (this is true with any white lamp, whether it is incandescent, or CFL, or LED). If I use a yellow incandescent or a yellow CFL, then there are much fewer insects (like hundreds of times fewer). But yellow incandescent bulbs consume too much electric energy and yellow CFLs are incompatible with the “dusk-to-dawn” switch. I wish there was a yellow LED lamp with the light output equivalent to a 100W incandescent. But I cannot find one. Do you know of a yellow LED lamp in this power range?

    • http://www.1000bulbs.com Will Parsons

      At present, I’m not aware of any 100W LED bug lights. Though you could try placing a yellow filter in the light fixture instead. That way you could use a regular 100W LED along and achieve the same result.

  • LoneStarNot

    Bugs see mostly violet/blue/green? What of mosquitoes infamously seeing infrared? Myth?

    • Will Parsons

      As far as I’m aware mosquitoes can see int eh infrared range. They track by vision and smell, typically along the line of exhaled CO2, until they reach around 10 feet, where thermal (or infrared) vision takes over to guide them in.

      Again, not all bugs are attracted to the same spectrum of light. It varies depending on what the insect uses to navigate.

  • Will Parsons

    First, DDT is not legal for use in the US (with very few emergency exceptions).

    Otherwise, such a trap could work, but it would be far simpler to just coat the bag in a sticky substance like fly paper, or purchase an electric trap. Most of the electric mosquito traps have a heated core that attracts bugs through an electrified grid.

  • ShawneeSS

    Okay here’s a question. Would those yellow c7 LED christmas bulbs work just as well as a bug light.? I’ve got candelabra bases in all my outdoor lights and 3 lights per can should put out enough light I would think . And seems cheaper too.

    • Will Parsons

      It depends on the color coating and how many coats are applied. It should work, as the light emitted is still in the yellow range, but yes, you will need many more bulbs since they are a significantly lower power.

  • Will Parsons

    Bug lights do not actively repel insects. The yellow lamp simply does not attract as many bugs. Do you have a light source nearby that’s attracting bugs? Replacing that could help. You might be better served by lighting a citronella candle as a repellent. Citronella isn’t toxic to birds.