Trillions of Insects Killed by Cars Every Year, Says Study

Photo: peter pearson / cc

Last May, Dutch biologist Arnold van Vliet embarked on a bold and buggy mission to count how many insects are killed by cars -- and six weeks later, the results are in. To perform the census of bug vs. car fatalities, the researcher enlisted the help of around 250 drivers to count the number of squashed insects on their front licence plates per distance travelled. After some simple math, van Vliet has arrived at a figure that is nothing short of astronomical.With the help of volunteer squished-insect-counters submitting data to a web site devoted to the dead bug census, SplashTeller, biologists have learned a bit more about how deadly driving can be. All told, over the course of six weeks and 19,184 miles of travel, the smooshed bodies of no less than 17,836 insects were discovered -- on the cars' front licence plates alone. That averages to two insects killed (in that particular area of the vehicle) for every 6.2 miles traveled.

While the lives of a couple of bugs may not seem like much, van Vliet is quick to point out that all those little deaths really add up -- to nearly a trillion insect fatalities caused by cars every six months in the Netherlands alone.

In 2007, over 7 million cars [in the Netherlands] traveled about 200 billion kilometers. If we assume for simplicity that every month the average is the same for all cars, then 16.7 billion kilometers are traveled a month. In just the licence plates, 3.3 billion bugs are killed per month. The front of the car is at least forty times as large as the surface of the plate. This means that cars hit around 133 billion insects every month. In half a year, that is 800 billion insects. This is significantly more than we had estimated six weeks ago.

A similar bug-survey conducted in the UK found about the same average of insects killed by cars per distance traveled, so it could be said the rate could be applied elsewhere as well -- which could have grave implications for insects in the United States. For fun, I'll work through van Vliet's formula with US driving statistics.

With 200 million cars in the US, driven an average of 12,500 miles per year, the entire nation travels approximately 2.5 trillion miles annually, and kills around 32.5 trillion insects in the process!

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