Moon phases influence the behavior of all living things, including humans. Lunar power is due to two primary forces: gravity and light changes.
Lions and other predators attack more during the week after a full moon. “The first hours of the night are darkest during the week following a full moon, and the lions are hungriest at that time because of the low predation success during full moon nights,” according to Noga Kronfeld-Schor, who led a study on moonlight’s affect on various species. The paper is published in the latest Proceedings of the Royal Society B.
“Doodle bug larvae (Myrmeleon obscurus) dig funnel-shaped traps into the sand at the bottom of which they lurk for insect prey,” Kronfeld-Schor told Discovery News. “These funnels are rebuilt every day; around full moon the pits are large, during a new moon -- small. Perhaps the higher probability of catching prey during moonlit nights is worth the investment.”
Bats, such as this vampire bat, tend to decrease their activity during nights when the moon is bright. “The reduction in activity probably reflects predation avoidance,” Kronfeld-Schor explained. The bats would simply be more visible to predators. On islands where bats have few predators, nocturnal species come out in force, as usual, at night.
Earth’s biggest reproduction event is the “mass spawning” of corals in the Great Barrier Reef. Co-author Oren Levy of Bar Ilan University told Discovery News that the moon “may choreograph sex among more than 130 species of corals” on the same night. “The event appears to be triggered by the level of lunar irradiance.”
Nightjars, which are insect-loving birds, increase their bug chomping on bright moonlit nights. They also “avoid activity on dark nights,” according to Kronfeld-Schor. These birds primarily rely upon eyesight to catch prey, so they can see better when there’s a full moon.
The moon pulling upward on water while the earth exerts a downward pull affects tidal changes. The moon’s gravity is responsible for 56 percent of earth’s tidal energy, with the sun influencing tides too.
Filter feeders like oysters feast at high tide, with food washing in.
Some animals, such as spiny mice, reduce or increase their body temperature in response to moonlight levels. “Common spiny mice (Acomys cahirinus) reduce activity and body temperature, and aggressive intra-specific encounters are higher in response to light at night,” Kronfeld-Schor said. “Moreover, during full moon nights, their foraging activity is lower.”
The moon is like nature’s flashlight for nocturnal predators such as the aye-aye. The aye-aye is a type of lemur native to Madagascar. Primates that are normally active during the night will actually shift their entire daily schedule in response to lunar movements. During new moon periods, for example, these primates may become fully diurnal (activity during the day), “compensating for the lack of nocturnal activity,” Kronfeld-Schor said.
Charles Darwin, according to Kronfeld-Schor, was one of the first researchers to note that “human innate fear of darkness is an adaptation for avoiding risk of predation by nocturnal predators.” Back in the day, our ancestors fell victim to such animals and quickly learned that full moon and other brighter nights work to human advantage. To this day, many people keep a nightlight on for comfort’s sake.
Plants, bugs, and animals have all evolved ways of adapting to lunar cycles. Artificial lighting is disrupting those adaptations, however, to the point that scientists now refer to it as “light pollution.” This image of a highway, for example, was taken at 9:30 p.m. Light emitted from freeway illumination as well as from traffic keeps the surrounding area well lit all night long. Species, including humans, subjected to this light will therefore be in full moon mode each night, regardless of lunar phases.
Kronfeld-Schor warns that “artificial illumination is becoming widespread while its consequences to humans and ecological systems are poorly understood.” This scientific team, as well as others, hope to learn more about light pollution’s impact on us.