Technological developments in municipal lighting are altering the spectral characteristics of artificially lit habitats. Little is yet known of the biological consequences of such changes, although a variety of animal behaviours are dependent on detecting the spectral signature of light reflected from objects. Using previously published wavelengths of peak visual pigment absorbance, we compared how four alternative street lamp technologies affect the visual abilities of 213 species of arachnid, insect, bird, reptile and mammal by producing different wavelength ranges of light to which they are visually sensitive. The proportion of the visually detectable region of the light spectrum emitted by each lamp was compared to provide an indication of how different technologies are likely to facilitate visually guided behaviours such as detecting objects in the environment. Compared to narrow spectrum lamps, broad spectrum technologies enable animals to detect objects that reflect light over more of the spectrum to which they are sensitive and, importantly, create greater disparities in this ability between major taxonomic groups. The introduction of broad spectrum street lamps could therefore alter the balance of species interactions in the artificially lit environment. © 2013 Blackwell Publishing Ltd.