• Watzmann in light at night
Chair of Behavioral Physiology & Sociobiology

Degen lab - Orientation of nocturnal insects and the impact of light pollution

Nocturnal insects possess exceptional night vision, allowing them to navigate even through complex habitats. Moon and stars play a crucial role in this ability, as they create a natural light pattern that nocturnal insects are adapted to. However, the introduction of artificial light at night has continuously changed this natural light environment, posing new challenges for individuals.

Our research group investigates how both, natural and artificial light sources influence the orientation of nocturnal insects. In addition to established field experiments, innovative laboratory experiments are essential for a deeper understanding of fundamental behavioural mechanisms. The insights gained shall further contribute to a knowledge-based and targeted advancement of insect-friendly lighting technologies.

A key focus of our research group is the development of innovative technologies for real-time 3D tracking of freely flying moths, concurrently recording the surrounding light environment. We particularly examine the behaviour of the elephant hawk moth (Deilephila elpenor), a well-explored model organism, and the privet hawk moth (Sphinx ligustri), aimed at being established as a new model organism.


  • Behavioural experiments on the impact of natural and artificial light sources on the orientation of nocturnal moths
  • Development of new methods for recording insect flights and analysis of the light environment
  • Advancement of insect-friendly lighting
  • Electrophysiological investigations of the visual system of hawk moths
  • Neuroanatomical examinations of the visual and olfactory systems of hawk moths

Selected publications

  • X,Y, and Z: A bird’s eye view on light pollution. Degen, Tobias; Kolláth, Zoltán; Degen, Jacqueline. In Ecology and Evolution, 12, p. e9608. 2022.
  • The rising moon promotes mate finding in moths. Storms, Mona; Jakhar, Aryan; Mitesser, Oliver; Jechow, Andreas; Hölker, Franz; Degen, Tobias; Hovestadt, Thomas; Degen, Jacqueline. In Communications Biology, 5, p. 393. 2022.
  • A new innovative real-time tracking method for flying insects applicable under natural conditions. Walter, Thomas; Degen, Jacqueline; Pfeiffer, Keram; Stöckl, Anna; Montenegro, Sergio; Degen, Tobias. In BMC Zoology, 6, p. 35. 2021.
  • Honeybees Learn Landscape Features during Exploratory Orientation Flights. Degen, Jacqueline; Kirbach, Andreas; Reiter, Lutz; Lehmann, Konstantin; Norton, Philipp; Storms, Mona; Koblofsky, Miriam; Winter, Sarah; Georgieva, Petya B; Nguyen, Hai; Chamkhi, Hayfe; Meyer, Hanno; Singh, Pawan K; Manz, Gisela; Greggers, Uwe; Menzel, Randolf. In Current Biology, 26(20), pp. 2800–2804. 2016.
  • Exploratory behaviour of honeybees during orientation flights. Degen, Jacqueline; Kirbach, Andreas; Reiter, Lutz; Lehmann, Konstantin; Norton, Philipp; Storms, Mona; Koblofsky, Miriam; Winter, Sarah; Georgieva, Petya B.; Nguyen, Hai; Chamkhi, Hayfe; Greggers, Uwe; Menzel, Randolf. In Animal Behaviour, 102, pp. 45–57. 2015.