Biologist Counting How Many Bugs Are Killed by Cars

bugs on car photo
Photo: Looking Glass / cc

Entomologists estimate there to be around a quintillion individual insects on the planet -- that's 1 followed by eighteen 0's, by the way -- but what no one really knows is how many of those are killed when our cars smash into them. Sure, it may seem like an odd sort of question, but for one researcher from the Netherlands, the answer could provide important insight into insect population density. So, in hopes of figuring out just how many bugs are killed by vehicles, biologist Arnold van Vliet is seeking a little help from drivers -- by asking them to count the bug corpses on their cars.The biologist from the University of Wageningen believes that around 500 billion insects are killed each year in vehicle strikes in the Netherlands alone, but within those little deaths lie clues about how bugs are distributed, information that has been thus far elusive. By enlisting the help of drivers Dutch drivers, van Vliet hopes to determine when and where insect populations are most dense, and how climate conditions may impact those figures.

Van Vliet has launched a web site called Splash-Teller which allows drivers to contribute to his study by counting the number of insects that have perished within a standard area of their vehicles -- in this case, their front license plate. The researcher tells Expatica, with "that information, combined with the beginning and end point of the drive plus time and date will give us unique information. This information will give us an idea of the amount of insect presence in certain locations and also about their flight patters. So far we have never been able to chart insect behavior in this manner."

While there are certainly no shortage of insects in the world, the movements and seasonal patterns of bugs could provide valuable insight into other species that eat them, like birds. Van Vliet also believes there may be an economic benefit of his insect study, too. For the time being, pest control measures and pollination schedules have been largely determined by as yet poorly understood insect densities.

For Van Viliet, one major challenge is finding folks as excited by bugs as he is. "The only tough thing is to get people to get on their hands and knees to do a full body count of insects. But that is what we need," he says.

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