Abstract Behaviour of nocturnal insects is routinely observed under red light, but it is unclear how the behaviour under red light compares to behaviour in complete darkness, or under a source of white light. Here, we measure movement behaviour of the nocturnal carabid beetle Pterostichus melanarius Illiger (Coleoptera: Carabidae) using camera recording under a near-infrared (nir), red or white radiation source. Red light significantly reduced movement speed in females similar to the effect of white light and different from nir. Also movement activity and pause length were affected by radiation source, with a significant difference between nir and white light, and with intermediate values in red light. The results presented here indicate that P. melanarius has different movement behaviour under the three radiation sources and suggest that nir rather than red radiation is most appropriate for measuring behaviour in total darkness. However, in the field total darkness is rare both because of natural light sources such as the moon and stars but increasingly also because of ecological light pollution, and therefore red light may still be of use for observing ecologically and practically relevant natural night-time behaviour.