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The Splatometer.

Some of us might be familiar with the car care product “Bugger Off” – a really useful product that cleans insect splatter off the front of your car with ease.  In Australia there still seems to be plenty of insect life around but wildlife experts have been warning about the decline in insects for decades.  I’m not sure if you’ve noticed any decline in bug splatter on your windscreen over the last decade or so?

In areas of intensive agriculture, more-so cropping, the use of wide scale insecticides has diminished insect numbers.  Vast areas of the Australian Outback doesn’t have this problem, with little cropping present in remote areas.  But, where crop farming is intense, the use of insecticides is definitely reducing the total insect population.  The fall in insect numbers in Britain has reached troubling numbers that even motorists are noticing that their windscreens are clear of squashed beetles, flies, moths etc.  In Britain, a trip in the middle of summer once required the cleaning of the front window regularly, but now the glass is largely clear.  Richard Acland, of Chepstow, in Monmouthshire, Britain said he believed insecticides on crops were wiping out the world’s insect life, adding: “This is why cars are not bug-splattered anymore.”  Entomologists actually call it ‘the windscreen phenomenon,’ and statistical surveys reveal that the phenomenon has been noticed across Europe.

After extrapolating data from a mile of highway in Ontario, a researcher from Laurentian University, Canada calculated that hundreds of billions of pollinating insects were probably being killed by vehicles each year in North America.  She suggested that the increase in vehicle numbers is also contributing to the decline in worldwide insect populations.

Another research institute in Harpenden, England, has monitored insect populations using traps across the UK for more than 50 years and there has been evidence that insect numbers have really declined.  Experts mostly blame intensive agriculture and the use of pesticides over the past 50 years being attributed to this occurrence.  They did point out, however, that the loss of insects from vehicle windscreens is well-noted but actually demonstrating it is tricky.

In 2004 motorists were asked to attach a ‘splatometer’ to the front of their cars – a piece of PVC film to collect insects, to see if they were declining.  The results showed that there were 324,814 ‘splats’ recorded, which worked out to be an average of one squashed insect every five miles.  It would be beneficial to run another of these experiments to see if numbers have declined further or not.  One thing that might throw the data, however, is the increased aerodynamic shapes of new cars travelling the roads.  The reality that cars have changed shape over time, and are now far more aerodynamic, would also result in fewer insects actually being hit squarely on the windscreen and causing a splat.

Cars and insecticides are an insect’s nightmare.  Less insecticides and more shapely cars has to be a good thing for life on planet earth!  Have you noticed less insect splats?