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Your Windshield

Place a clear piece of Saran Wrap across the front of the windshield, peel the wrap off and violà!--a hangable piece of insect art

By Novella Carpenter

It's that time again--bug season. And it's always bird-dropping season. Your windshield is being assaulted from the air and the ground, and if you're lucky you'll be able to wipe off a tiny circle of the windshield in order to navigate. Two books have attempted to make this phenomenon fun and educational: Mark Hostetler's That Gunk on Your Car: a Unique Guide to Insects of North America and What Bird Did That? A Driver's Guide to Some Common Birds of North America by Peter Hansard and Burton Silver.

Entomologist Hostetler came to love bug smears when he noticed how many specimens a Florida Greyhound bus contained on its front end. He was getting his Ph.D. at the University of Florida and decided to drive around the United States with an apparatus that collected insects that ricocheted off his windshield. That Gunk on Your Car is the result of Hostetler's research, a field guide to splats.

First we get a profile of the natural history of the insect and where you might find the bug. For example, there are flying ants called alates that leave their home colonies to establish new ones and--splat!--encounter your car. The illo of the ant splat looks like a white blob; Hostetler describes it as a "watery, small white smear about 8-15 mm in length."

Moths, order Lepidoptera, fly at bright lights because they are used to orienting themselves by the moon, and mistake lights as moonbeams. Their splat usually leaves a thick, gooey, white or yellow substance with lumps in it. The splat is usually strung out from the point of impact (10-90 mm), and one can see scales (dustlike particles) scattered around the perimeter.

Hostetler's book suggests games for the car involving bugs, like dividing the front windshield into halves or quarters and observing splats--the one with the most wins! He also suggests placing a clear piece of Saran Wrap across the front of the windshield before going on a drive. Peel the wrap off the windshield, and--violà!--you have a hangable piece of insect art.

Not quite as sincere is What Bird Did That? We are privy to some incredible details of various bird splats, so that as motorists we will be able to ID the various species that caused them. The authors urge us to keep this guide in the glove box and to use the splay to gather information about the bird's diet, physical condition and state of its habitat. For example, a feral pigeon, Columba livia, has a dropping described as "a generous schplutz with green, brown and occasionally yellow nuclear material, tending to be well spread inside the somewhat loose envelope. Dries to a hard and brittle consistency."

Which brings up the next issue: What's the best way to remove "splays" and bug splats? My own windshield is a mess that I halfheartedly blast with the windshield fluid once in awhile. I had to go where people would have the time to deal with, perhaps obsess over, this minor irritant, so I went to, you guessed it, an RV web forum--www.campingworld.com/cforum. There I discovered a group of people who subscribe to the notion of using used fabric-softening sheets as bug removers. They also fashion bug-mesh mitts. They support each other in their efforts to keep their rigs clean and bug-free.

One poster recommended a product called Bar's Splatt Bug Remover, widely available. Bar's recommends spraying generous amounts of Splatt on the offending surface, waiting one minute, and then rinsing it with a squirt of water or toweling it off. Another option for bug and other removal is HotShot, a "stand-alone intelligent fluid-heating system that integrates quickly and easily with any vehicle's windshield washer lines and electrical system. HotShot fits any vehicle, any model, any year." Though its primary purpose is to de-ice and de-snow windshields and wipers, the manufacturer, Microheat Inc, advertises that its hot fluid also removes bug gunk and road grime. For a video of gunk removal, visit www.microheat.com.

Novella's favorite bug is the praying mantis; email yours to [email protected]

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From the August 25-September 1, 2004 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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