New app turns in­sect splats into a game

The Prince George Citizen - - Travel - An­drea SACHS

For this sum­mer’s road trips, skip the li­cense plate game and 100th view­ing of Na­tional Lam­poon’s Va­ca­tion and try a new di­ver­sion we’ll call Name That Splat. All you need is a wind­shield, some un­lucky bugs and the app cre­ated by Univer­sity of Florida pro­fes­sor Mark Hostetler and his son, Bryce, a col­lege student. Last fall, the pair re­leased That Gunk on Your Car, a free IOS app that helps am­a­teur et­y­mol­o­gists iden­tify the road kill on their wind­shields.

The app con­tains sev­eral fea­tures, in­clud­ing an il­lus­trated guide to identifyin­g bug splats, a glos­sary and car games, such as My Side/Your Side (each player claims a sec­tion of wind­shield and ac­cu­mu­lates “points”) and In­sect Art ( plas­tic wrap re­quired).

We re­cently spoke with the in­ven­tors about the app, col­lect­ing bugs and the largest splat. Here is an edited ver­sion of the con­ver­sa­tion.

Q: What was the in­spi­ra­tion for the app?

Mark: It came from a book I wrote years ago about how to iden­tify in­sect splats on wind­shields. It was a way to hook peo­ple into read­ing about in­sects. The book was done in 1996 and is cur­rently out of print. But I was on the Tonight Show with Jay Leno. Q: How does the app work?

Bryce: The idea was to make it as easy as pos­si­ble to use if you sud­denly came across a splat and to give you a quick idea of what (the in­sect) could be. You are pre­sented with var­i­ous splats and a thumb­nail for each one.

You can search them by dif­fer­ent char­ac­ter­is­tics. Con­tent from the book is in­ter­spersed through­out the app. Mark: You can select the shape, the size and the color, and it will limit the broad cat­e­gory.

Q: How many bugs do you list? Bryce: We have 24 broad cat­e­gories.

Q: How did you com­pile the in­for­ma­tion?

Mark: I col­lected the data years ago by hanging out at Grey­hound bus sta­tions. When the buses came in, the splats were flat and straight, so I could look at them and see a part of the in­sect.

They were pretty amused that I was ask­ing per­mis­sion to clean the in­sects off their wind­shields. With a (smaller) ve­hi­cle, the in­sects ric­o­chet up over the top. I put a net over my car and drove cross­coun­try. When­ever I had a splat, I would pull over to the side of the road and look in my net to see what it was.

The net was quite the con­ver­sa­tion piece at the gas sta­tions.

Q: How did you choose the bugs fea­tured in the app?

Mark: I picked the ones that were most nu­mer­ous.

Bryce: We have gen­eral cat­e­gories of bugs that you will find across all the dif­fer­ent states and are not spe­cific to one state.

Mark: Love­bugs are only in the south­east; you won’t find them up north. Love­bugs are at­tracted to roads and ve­hi­cles dur­ing the day. The fe­males are look­ing for a place to lay their eggs.

There was a study that showed that UV light that goes through au­to­mo­bile ex­haust re­leases com­pounds that mimic de­cay­ing or­ganic mat­ter, and that’s where love­bugs lay their eggs.

Q: Are splats con­sis­tent or do they vary by the car’s speed or wind­shield shape?

Mark: But­ter­flies and moths have a typ­i­cal colour and can be strung out. Flies tend to be like lit­tle dots. Even though there is a lot of vari­abil­ity among each

splat, you can nar­row it down to a cou­ple of dif­fer­ent options. You can also look at distri­bu­tion and time of the year to get a bet­ter idea of what it prob­a­bly was.

Q: What is the peak sea­son for splats?

Mark: The warm months, spring and sum­mer, and at night.

Q: Do you typ­i­cally see one kind of bug splat or a pot­pourri?

Mark: If it is love bug sea­son, then you tend to get a lot of the same kind. But you will typ­i­cally get mos­qui­toes and flies, some

but­ter­flies and moths, and bee­tles and drag­on­flies. You get quite a mix­ture.

Q: What if the app user is stumped? Can he or she send you an im­age of the splat?

Mark: We just got one yes­ter­day. Some­one found a moth.

Q: Do you have plans to ex­pand the app?

Mark: In the fu­ture, we might add a data­base of dif­fer­ent images from each user. So if you are stumped by the il­lus­tra­tions, you can try to look at other peo­ple’s splats. And we are work­ing on adding an­other game. The gen­eral idea is that you are a lit­tle car at the bot­tom of the screen driv­ing along and you’re try­ing to avoid the in­sect.

If you hit one, the game ends. But if you can cor­rectly iden­tify the in­sect, you can keep go­ing.

Q: In­sect pop­u­la­tions are de­clin­ing. Should we try to avoid hit­ting them, if that’s even pos­si­ble?

Mark: I have been get­ting a lot of emails from peo­ple say­ing they don’t get as much gunk on their cars as they used to when they were younger. The cars aren’t re­ally hav­ing an im­pact. It’s habi­tat and pes­ti­cides.

Bryce: Don’t go swerv­ing around them.

Q: What’s the best way to re­move bug gunk?

Mark: You gotta clean them off be­fore they dry. Some­times I put a prod­uct on the wind­shield like Rain-X. But soap, water and a mesh sponge work. Don’t wait till they get baked on.

Q: What el­e­vates a splat from a smudge to sci­ence?

Mark: Each splat has all of these lit­tle unique prop­er­ties. For ex­am­ple, if you have a bit of red in the splat, it’s an in­sect that just fed on a mam­mal or bird – typ­i­cally a horse­fly or mos­quito. With most species, save a few, the fe­male bites be­cause she needs the blood for the eggs to ma­ture and de­velop. So if you are get­ting mos­quito splats and one has a touch of red in it, you know that it’s a fe­male mos­quito.

Bryce: In the app, if you turn the colour picker to red, you’ll get black­flies, house and deer flies, mos­qui­toes and mus­cid flies, which are in­sects that feed on blood. Mark: Light­en­ing bugs ac­tu­ally glow when they splat.

Q: What is the largest splat you have ever en­coun­tered?

Mark: A large fe­male moth full of eggs. Be­cause the moth has wings, when it hits the wind­shield, it gets dragged up, which is kind of gross but at the same time in­ter­est­ing to see this quite large splat on your wind­shield.

WASH­ING­TON POST HANDOUT PHOTO

A new app, That Gunk on Your Car, with il­lus­tra­tions by Re­bekah McClean, al­lows users to quiz them­selves on how well they can match a bug to its splat.

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