Windshield phenomenon

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The windshield phenomenon (or windscreen phenomenon) is a term given to the anecdotal observation that people tend to find fewer insects smashed on the windscreens of their cars now compared to a decade or several decades ago. This effect has been ascribed to major global declines in insect abundance.[1]


As early as the 2000s it became a commonplace observation among drivers that windscreens after a long drive no longer had to be cleaned of myriad insects.[2][3][4]

In 2004 the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds asked British motorists to attach a PVC film to their number plate to measure the number of insects that collided with it during car journeys. This splat-o-meter estimated one insect squashed every five miles of driving, and represents one of the few pieces of data directly relevant to the windscreen phenomenon.[2][3][4][5][6] Although the study did not have historical data for comparison, it was reported that many participants in the study were astounded by how few insects their traps collected.[7] John Rawlins, head of Invertebrate Zoology at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History has suggested that changes in vehicle design that have made cars more aerodynamic may be partially responsible for any changes in the number of insects hitting windshields.[8] Scott Black, executive director of the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation in Portland, Oregon, does not agree. Speaking in an article published in Science, he says that that the sleek 1969 Ford Mustang that he drove as a teenager was always covered with insects. [9] In 2016 the Canadian naturalist John Acorn noted what the phenomenon had recently become a meme but questioned whether it is "reasonable to assume that windshields can tell us something about the overall numbers of insects" and also that "humans are notoriously bad at detecting trends".[10]


The windshield phenomenon was widely discussed in 2017 after major publications and media coverage concerning reductions in insect abundance over the last few decades.[11] Entomologists state that they had noticed that they no longer had to frequently clean their windshields.[9][5][12] While data existed demonstrating the long-term decline in numbers of certain species, such as bees and butterflies, data was lacking for overall insect abundance.[13][14][15][16] The Entomological Society of Krefeld, Germany had amassed 27 years worth of flying insect numbers collected using unchanged methods (Malaise traps) and sampling spots, publishing a landmark study in 2017 describing a >75% decrease in total biomass over the years.[9][13][14][17] Another paper a year later showed that this effect was matched in the El Yunque National Forest of Puerto Rico, using abundance data from 1976 and comparing it to that collected in the modern day using identical methods.[11][14][18]

Not all the data collected supports such a steep decline of insect abundance, suggesting that the true effect worldwide on insect populations is variable.[2][9][17] However, many studies agree with the conclusions of the German investigation suggesting that insect numbers are declining.[12]


  1. ^ McCarthy, Michael (21 October 2017). "A giant insect ecosystem is collapsing due to humans. It's a catastrophe". The Guardian.
  2. ^ a b c McCarthy, Michael (2003-06-30). "Scientists set out to discover if insects are disappearing from Britain". The Independent. Retrieved 2019-02-01.
  3. ^ a b WalesOnline (2004-09-01). "Car 'splatometer' test shows bugs flying towards extinction". walesonline. Retrieved 2019-02-01.
  4. ^ a b "'Splatometer' to count bug life". BBC News. 2003-06-30. Retrieved 2019-02-01.
  5. ^ a b Knapton, Sarah (2017-08-26). "'The windscreen phenomenon' - why your car is no longer covered in dead insects". The Telegraph. ISSN 0307-1235. Retrieved 2019-02-01.
  6. ^ "Scarce insects duck UK splat test". BBC News. 2004-09-01. Retrieved 2019-02-01.
  7. ^ McCarthy, Michael (2004-09-02). "40,000 'splatometers' can't be wrong: insect population is in decline". The Independent. Retrieved 2019-02-01.
  8. ^ Erin Mills (2017-04-20). "What's The Splatter? The Science Behind Bug Guts on your Windshield". Houston Museum of Natural Science.
  9. ^ a b c d Vogel, Gretchen; 10 May 2017; Am, 9:00 (2017-05-09). "Where have all the insects gone?". Science | AAAS. Retrieved 2019-02-01.
  10. ^ Acorn, John (2016). "The Windshield Anecdote". American Entomologist. 62 (4): 262–264. doi:10.1093/ae/tmw086.
  11. ^ a b "What is the 'windshield phenomenon'?". Mother Nature Network. Retrieved 2019-02-01.
  12. ^ a b "What happened to all the bugs? Scientists search for answers". The Sydney Morning Herald. 2018-09-20. Retrieved 2019-02-01.
  13. ^ a b Kroon, Hans de; Goulson, Dave; Hörren, Thomas; Sumser, Hubert; Müller, Andreas; Stenmans, Werner; Schwan, Heinz; Hofland, Nick; Siepel, Henk (2017-10-18). "More than 75 percent decline over 27 years in total flying insect biomass in protected areas". PLOS ONE. 12 (10): e0185809. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0185809. ISSN 1932-6203. PMC 5646769. PMID 29045418.
  14. ^ a b c Jarvis, Brooke (2018-11-27). "The Insect Apocalypse Is Here". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2019-01-28.
  15. ^ Winfree, Rachael; Aguilar, Ramiro; Vázquez, Diego P.; LeBuhn, Gretchen; Aizen, Marcelo A. (2009). "A meta-analysis of bees' responses to anthropogenic disturbance". Ecology. 90 (8): 2068–2076. doi:10.1890/08-1245.1. ISSN 1939-9170.
  16. ^ McCarthy, Michael (2017-10-21). "A giant insect ecosystem is collapsing due to humans. It's a catastrophe". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 2019-02-02.
  17. ^ a b Briggs, Helen (2017-10-19). "Alarm over decline in flying insects". BBC News. Retrieved 2019-02-01.
  18. ^ Garcia, Andres; Lister, Bradford C. (2018-10-30). "Climate-driven declines in arthropod abundance restructure a rainforest food web". Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 115 (44): E10397–E10406. doi:10.1073/pnas.1722477115. ISSN 0027-8424. PMID 30322922.