Plastic graveyard. The device, about the size of a postcard, fits on a license plate.

Insect Science on Wheels

Birders in the U.K. have hatched an oddball scheme to make use of the insect remains that accumulate on cars in summer. The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds is conducting pilot tests on equipping windshields with "splatometers" to estimate declining insect numbers.

The society's Mark Avery says the group has been puzzling over Britain's plummeting bird populations, and many of its million-plus members have suggested that the problem may be related to an apparent decline in the flies, aphids, moths, and other insects that birds feed on. So the society wants bird lovers to attach postcard-sized plastic patches to their windshields or license plates to collect representative samples of battered insects. After 80 kilometers or so, the driver would rip off the patch, cover it with plastic to form a bug sandwich, and send it in for analysis. Society workers are adapting scanners and computers to tally the results.

The data would provide a bug-death baseline for the future, says Avery, and could reveal regional variations linked to urbanization and type of agriculture. Distinguishing squashed species will be practically impossible, notes entomologist Clare Hughes of the University of York. But splatometers could nonetheless help contribute to the bigger picture of insect declines.

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