For this summer’s road trips, skip the license plate game and auto bingo and try a new diversion we’ll call Name That Splat.
All you need is a windshield, some unlucky bugs, and the app created by University of Florida professor Mark Hostetler and his son, Bryce, a college student.
Last fall, they released That Gunk on Your Car, a free IOS app that helps amateur entomologists identify the road kill on their windshields. The app contains several features, including an illustrated guide to identifying bug splats, a glossary, and car games such as My Side/Your Side (each player claims a section of windshield and accumulates “points”) and Insect Art (plastic wrap required).
We recently spoke with the inventors about the app, collecting bugs, and the largest splat. Here is an edited version of the conversation.
What was the inspiration for the app?
Mark: It came from a book I wrote years ago about how to identify insect splats on windshields. It was a way to hook people into reading about insects. The book was done in 1996 and is currently out of print. But I was on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno.
How does the app work?
Bryce: The idea was to make it as easy as possible to use if you suddenly came across a splat and to give you a quick idea of what [the insect] could be. You are presented with various splats and a thumbnail for each one. You can search them by different characteristics. Content from the book is interspersed throughout the app. … We have 24 broad categories.
How did you compile the information?
Mark: I collected the data years ago by hanging out at Greyhound bus stations. When the buses came in, the splats were flat and straight, so I could look at them and see a part of the insect. They were pretty amused that I was asking permission to clean the insects off their windshields. With a [smaller] vehicle, the insects ricochet up over the top. I put a net over my car and drove cross-country. Whenever I had a splat, I would pull over to the side of the road and look in my net to see what it was. The net was quite the conversation piece at the gas stations.
How did you choose the bugs featured in the app?
Mark: I picked the ones that were most numerous.
Are splats consistent or do they vary by the car's speed or windshield shape?
Mark: Butterflies and moths have a typical color and can be strung out. Flies tend to be like little dots. Even though there is a lot of variability among each splat, you can narrow it down to a couple of different options. You can also look at distribution and time of the year to get a better idea of what it probably was. ... Lightning bugs actually glow when they splat.
Do you typically see one kind of bug splat or a potpourri?
Mark: If it is lovebug season, then you tend to get a lot of the same kind. But you will typically get mosquitoes and flies, some butterflies and moths, and beetles and dragonflies. You get quite a mixture.
What's the best way to remove bug gunk?
Mark: You got to clean them off before they dry. Sometimes I put a product on the windshield like Rain-X. But soap, water, and a mesh sponge work. Don’t wait till they get baked on.
What is the largest splat you have ever encountered?