I’m driving in Oklahoma for the third time in a month. It’s not that I exactly dislike Oklahoma, it’s just that I can’t find anything to be particularly enamored with. Yeah, cue the hate mail: “You suck, OK is the BEST!!!” Seriously, I’m not totally against the state and there has been some entomological awesomeness. Mainly on my windshield. Which brings up some interesting points!
You have all seen the guts, the smudges, the gooey guts on the front window as you are barreling down the highway hoping the cops don’t pull you over for doing ten over the speed limit. In a way, it is probably a good thing that those hard to remove smears are whitish. If they were all red it would look like I had taken out a hoard of small animals and their blood was splattered all over my car. But why isn’t it red? Insect hemolymph (basically their blood) doesn’t contain hemoglobin which is what makes mammal blood red. Their internal juices contain hemocyanin which is copper based, as opposed to iron based. So when they are peppering your car like hail and exploding on the window, that’s why it’s pale colored.
But wait! OMG aren’t we just DESTROYING the insect populations by driving? Our terrible driving habits make us killers (and maybe terrible entomologists?)! It’s true. A Dutch study estimated that nearly two TRILLION insects are killed by cars every year in that country. That will vary by location, temperature, other weather conditions, etc.
But wait (again)! All those guts on the car must be causing air resistance and destroying the gas mileage right? Oh yes, there’s been research on that! Over the years, cars have become more aerodynamic and that means fewer bugs hit and stick to our front ends. Also, the speeds that we travel at (despite my lead foot) really aren’t enough to have a few dead things make much of an impact on our mileage. However, it makes a difference for other fast moving vehicles like planes and space shuttles. On these fast moving machines, even a little bit of drag can be significant. That’s why scientists are developing specialized coatings so the insects don’t splatter and slow things down.
Is there anything good about having that incredibly splattered car? I think we should ask a splatologist. That’s right, I said splatologist! All those splats can be an indication of what
species and what types of populations are “out there”. Dr. Hostetler from Florida has done some interesting research on this very issue. Researchers have also done DNA studies to see differences between bug guts on cars from different regions.
So next time you are flying down the highway (just trying to get out of Oklahoma maybe?) and you hear the tiny raindrops of insects pelting your just washed vehicle, remember, it
may be a fun puzzle to figure out just how many and what types of insects you have just massacred. Know someone going on a road trip soon? Spread the entomological awesomeness!