Bug Juice

As my car added miles over the Easter holiday, my windshield doubled as a bug graveyard. I had to find openings among the splatters to see the road.

The mess made me wonder why so many bugs wind up on windshields, headlights, and grills of vehicles—my vehicle in particular. So, I looked it up.

There are actual articles on this subject that contain scientific stuff. My brain and science aren’t the best of friends.

According to entomologists, many factors contribute to bugs slamming into cars. Or, from the bugs’ point of view, cars crashing into bugs. Either way, the result is not a pretty sight.

Experts point to the combination of behavior and flight patterns of insects and the physics of airflow around vehicles. Full disclosure: I did not take physics—ever.

Still, I’ll try to muddle through.

Itty bitty insects are more apt to fly over and survive oncoming aerodynamic vehicles that are not traveling at high speeds. Put a tour bus with a flat front in their paths and, well, squash.

The faster the speed of the vehicle gives bugs less of a chance to redirect their routes. I think, maybe, the latter also holds true for animals and people.

Environment and seasons figure in. It appears that vehicles encounter more bugs on roads along ponds, lakes, and other waterways. And, in areas that experience cold seasons, bugs hibernate in winter.

Light is also an issue. Nocturnal bugs navigate using moonlight. On a cloudy night, they fly toward other light sources—like vehicular headlights.

Until this last smattering of bug juice on my windshield, I did not know that most bugs fly only between two to five feet above the ground. That puts the poor creatures pretty much in the path of everything with or without wheels.

OK. I don’t consider them all “poor creatures.” It’s difficult for me to feel sympathy for annoying mosquitoes.

And I realize bees do all kinds of good work. But I can’t forget the day that one flew through my driver’s side window and down the back of my shirt. Try driving down a busy freeway while struggling to crush a bee that is stinging your back multiple times.

But I digress.

When a driver gets blasted with a storm of bug juice in one fell swoop, chances are he or she has hit a mating swarm. Some groups of insects get together on a mating mission and do a thing called “hill topping.”

Could “hilltopping” be the bug version of parking? This is where my limited understanding of entomology and physics glows.

Those who drive over mountain passes and up and down hilly roads, beware. There’s a whole lot of “hilltopping” going on around those parts, and you’re apt to ruin the fun.

All of my research led to enlightening information, but I seldom see the bug that leaves the juice. Every now and then, I’ll hear a man-sized insect whack the glass. Most of the time, though, it’s like last week. One minute my windshield was clean, and, the next minute, it was covered in green, yellow, and red gunk.

Speaking of gunk, there is a book—no kidding—about how to identify the bugs on one’s windshield. That Gunk on Your Car: A Unique Guide to Insects of the United States was written by University of Florida entomologist Mark Hostetler.

It’s what everyone dreams of owning—a guide to identifying the bugs we kill. Reviewers call it “an unexpected delight” for all ages. When I saw I could get a used copy for under four dollars, I ordered it.

I passed on adding specialized bug juice remover to my cart. I know enough physics to know to keep bug juice out of the sun and clean it off—quick.



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