Florida is rich in biomass. It’s got a lot of bugs.
You’re driving down the highway, and all of a sudden — splat — a bug smacks your windshield, leaving a gooey glob on the glass. That’s the end of it from the bug’s perspective, but did you ever wonder just what it was? Not in an "Alas, poor Yorick! I knew him, Horatio" way, but more in a "Whoa, what was that? It nearly left a dent" way.
University of Florida professor Mark Hostetler and his son, Jámm Hostetler, have got you covered. They have debuted a mobile app to help people identify bug splats on their cars. Called "That Gunk on Your Car," you can download it in the App Store and get identifying ASAP.
"The inspiration was, I’m an urban ecologist and my interest is in how to get people to do natural backyards instead of mowed grass. People ask me, ‘Will I get more bugs?’ and I say of course you will, you’ll have greater insect diversity and bird diversity," Mark Hostetler said by phone Monday.
The app follows a book of the same name that Hostetler published in 1997, his son, now an engineering student at UF, converting the information in the book into an interactive app with games where players match splats to their corresponding insects.
"It does have an ick factor, but it’s something people encounter every day. The target audience is anyone who drives a car," Hostetler said, adding that after all, "people love to identify birds and mammals."
The choices are myriad. You’ve got your cucumber beetles (watery, smallish yellowish splat) and your jumping plant lice (very small clear splat). And the mother of them all for Floridians: the lovebug. Their splat, as every car wash attendant knows, is an upward spray of creamy yellowish, very hard to remove (often a $5 up-charge, no negotiations, because you’ve got to put your back into it).
He says the impetus for writing the book and developing the app was those darned lovebugs — so numerous in May and September as couples fly around in conjoined bliss. But as with birding, if lovebugs are the most common, what splat should be on drivers’ bucket lists (birders, after all, will fly thousands of miles to check off the elf owl or California condor)? What is the trophy splat?
Hostetler was thoughtful before saying, "The rarest and most dramatic is when a lightning bug hits. It leaves a glowing residue for a few seconds."