Splatometers Reveal Possible Insect Decline in U.K.

Many bird populations in the U.K. have declined precipitously in recent years — for instance, house sparrows have dropped by 65 percent since 1973 — and some scientists suspect that a cause is a possible corresponding decline in the insect populations upon which the birds depend. To test the theory, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds organized the Big Bug Count, a massive, all-volunteer effort in popular research. Nearly 40,000 volunteers affixed “splatometers” — cardboard counting grids — to their front license plates, stopping every 20 to 80 miles to count the number of smashed insects. A total of 324,814 bugs died for science, an average of one every five miles. “Many people were astonished by how few insects they splatted,” said project coordinator Richard Bashford. While the organizers acknowledge that the count doesn’t conclusively point to a decline, they promise further splatometer deployments in coming years to establish comparative measurements.