This summer will mark my 55th year of (lawfully) riding motorcycles. I've ridden through a lot of countries, mainly the UK, Western Europe, a bit of northwest Africa, North America (east to west, north to south, rinse, repeat) and other places. You can't do that without inadvertently eating your fair share of bugs, insects. It used to be that, following a full day of riding, you would be decorated with insect remains from your helmet, on your sunglasses or goggles, your jacket and pants, they were everywhere. They usually made a proper mess of your headlight.
Over the last several years that's changed. The gauntlet is not as it once was. There are fewer insects, a lot fewer.
Two scientific studies of the number of insects splattered by cars have revealed a huge decline in abundance at European sites in two decades.
The research adds to growing evidence of what some scientists have called an “insect apocalypse”, which is threatening a collapse in the natural world that sustains humans and all life on Earth. A third study shows plummeting numbers of aquatic insects in streams.
The survey of insects hitting car windscreens in rural Denmark used data collected every summer from 1997 to 2017 and found an 80% decline in abundance. It also found a parallel decline in the number of swallows and martins, birds that live on insects.
The second survey, in the UK county of Kent in 2019, examined splats in a grid placed over car registration plates, known as a “splatometer”. This revealed 50% fewer impacts than in 2004.That may be good news for those who dash about with their heads in the slipstream but it's not good news for everybody else.
Our warming atmosphere is suspected as the main culprit behind the collapse of insect populations. Light pollution is thought to be another major factor. And, while we don't pay much attention to these bugs, the simple fact is that human civilization can't last without them.