Survey Gauges Insect Population By the Number of Bugs on License Plates, Finds They’ve Gone Down

After a long road trip, the front of your car is generally a bit of a mess, filled with bugs that had the unfortunate luck to slam into your grille, license plate, or windshield. A study out of the United Kingdom has found that fewer bugs are ending up on license plates, and that signals a problem.

Results from the 2022 Bugs Matter Survey, in which citizen scientists self-report the number of “bug splats” on their plates after trips, were released this month. The findings, put together by conservation charities Buglife and Kent Wildlife Trust, showed that there was a 64% decrease in license plate splats in the United Kingdom between 2004 and 2022. That’s a 5% larger decline than the difference between 2004 and 2021, though the organizations say that could be due in part to record-breaking summer heat. However, as both long-term trends and heat are linked with climate change, the organizations say the findings show that action is needed to boost global insect populations, which are responsible for pollinating crops, natural pest management, and maintaining the food chain.


Andrew Whitehouse, Head of Operations at Buglife, says, “For the second year running, Bugs Matter has shown potentially catastrophic declines in the abundance of flying insects. Urgent action is required to address the loss of the diversity and abundance of insect life. We will look to our leaders at COP15 for decisive action to restore nature at scale – both for wildlife, and for the health and wellbeing of future generations.”

COP15, a UN biodiversity conference, is currently being held in Canada. At the event, world leaders are working toward setting goals for reversing nature loss and improving biodiversity.

Among the reasons that there’s been a population loss among insects are habitat loss, damage, and fragmentation. Pollution, climate change, and pesticides are also playing a role.


To see if trends continue, the Bugs Matter Survey will again track insect splats in the summer of 2023, with tracking beginning June 1. The organizations hope more people will get involved in compiling this important data. They also hope other countries will create a similar survey.

Evan Bowen-Jones, Chief Executive at Kent Wildlife Trust, says, “Thanks to citizen scientists across the country, we are building a better picture of the health of our insect populations and already we are seeing some concerning patterns in the data. However, we need more citizen scientists to take part in the Bugs Matter survey next year and into the future, to understand whether we are seeing actual long-term trends or the impact of the extreme temperatures we faced in 2022. Thank you to everyone who took part in this year’s survey. We hope even more citizen scientists will contribute to this valuable dataset in the 2023 survey period and beyond.”

If you live in the U.K. and would like to learn more about taking part, visit this link. If you’d like to help insect populations in other ways, click here.

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