I get bored on long trips, and so my mind wanders. I was staring at the antenna on our truck on one road trip, and noticed how it was covered in bugs, much as our windshield. I began to think about the volume swept out by the antenna, and how you could learn things about bugs simply by counting how many hit your car antenna. Of course, they're hard to count on the antenna. What about the windshield? Well that would work, but there were far too many to convince Michelle to let me count every time we stopped for gas. This experiment was the result of those ponderings.

When we moved from Pasadena, CA and Bozeman, MT to State College, PA I knew it was going to be a long and boring drive, so I decided that would be the ideal time to try my new science experiment.

A standard collector

In order to do a study, I decided the best thing to have was a standard area collector which would allow me to drive and catch bugs, then at any stop quickly swap out the collection surface and store it for later use. I settled on the idea of something which could be fastened magnetically to the front of the car, and settled on a hide-a-key box. I cut the top off the box to make an open access to the collection surface, which would simply be small pieces of index cards which I had cut out to fit. Installed index cards are outlined and numbered so when removed I know what the active area was. Build and setup pictures are shown below:

build thumb build thumb build thumb build thumb build thumb build thumb build thumb
setup thumb build setup

Experiment Number 01: Bozeman, MT to State College, PA

Flux Cards: 23 June 2004 -- 26 June 2004
These images are of the individual flux cards collected on the journey from Bozeman, MT to State College, PA. The critical data on the collection of each card is tabulated below:

Card No.DateStartEndRouteTotalMiles
123 June 2004 Bozeman, MT
10:45am MDT
Sheridan, WY
5:00pm MDT
I-90270 mi
223 June 2004 Sheridan, WY
5:00pm MDT
Spearfish, SD
11:00pm MDT
I-90205 mi
324 June 2004 Spearfish, SD
9:00am MDT
Walnut, IA
10:30pm CDT
I-90/I-29594 mi
425 June 2004 Walnut, IA
8:30am CDT
Richmond, IN
11:00pm EDT
I-80/I-74/I-70648 mi
526 June 2004 Richmond, IN
8:00am EDT
State College, PA
7:00pm EDT
I-70/I-71/I-76/I-80452 mi

Flux Card Data

Since the bugs don't stay on the cards possibly, I count as a hit any bug on the card, as well as any obvious splat. The tables below give for each card: Hit count, and implied density converted to bugs/m^3 [DENSITY = HITS/ (mileage x 2" x 1.25")], and images.

The images are the card images taken when the card was removed, and follow-up images taken at 60x magnification with my QX3+ Digital USB Microscope. Click on the images for larger versions!

Card No.HitsHit DensityImages
15 hits7.13e-3 m^-3 frame 1 thumb frame 1 thumb frame 1 thumb
23 hits5.64e-3 m^-3 frame 2 thumb frame 2 thumb frame 2 thumb frame 2 thumb
37 hits4.54e-3 m^-3 frame 3 thumb frame 3 thumb frame 3 thumb frame 3 thumb
frame 3 thumb frame 3 thumb frame 3 thumb frame 3 thumb
45 hits2.97e-3 m^-3 frame 4 thumb frame 4 thumb frame 4 thumb frame 4 thumb
frame 4 thumb
53 hits2.56e-3 m^-3 frame 5 thumb frame 5 thumb frame 5 thumb frame 5 thumb
frame 5 thumb

Open Questions

Having only done one experiment, there are still open questions as to the design of the experiment. Here are things I would like to understand with future experiments:
  • Does the position of the collector on my car make a difference in the rates I get? Do the experiment with several at once.
  • Can I construct a somewhat larger collection area? Or a big scoop so bugs don't get blown off after they hit?
  • Would a real entomologist even care about this endeavour? If you are an entomologist, and have some comments for me, feel free to email!

Microscope images were taken with an Intel-Play QX3+ digital USB microscope (now made by Digital Blue), with images captured on the Macintosh using Eric Hangstefer's excellent utility miXscope.
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