St. Petersburg Times Online: News of Florida
TampaBay.com
Place an Ad Calendars Classified Forums Sports Weather
  • The science of splat
  • State senate stint would pad pension
  • State wants U.S. to take part of dam
  • State is losing battle with beach erosion
  • Around the State
  • Attorney general candidate fires back at Republican leader

  • From the state wire

  • Hurricane Jeanne appears on track to hit Florida's east coast
  • Rumor mill working overtime after Florida hurricanes
  • Developments associated with Hurricanes Ivan and Jeanne
  • Four killed in Panhandle plane crash were on Ivan charity mission
  • Hurricane Frances caused estimated $4.4 billion in insured damage
  • Disabled want more handicapped-accessible voting machines
  • USF forces administrators to resign over test score changes
  • Man's death at Universal Studios ruled accidental
  • State child welfare workers in Miami fail to do background checks
  • Hurricane Jeanne heads toward southeast U.S. coast
  • Hurricane Jeanne spurs more anxiety for storm-weary Floridians
  • Mistrial declared in case where teen was target of racial "joke"
  • Panhandle utility wants sewer plant moved to higher ground
  • State employee arrested on theft, bribery charges
  • Homestead house fire kills four children, one adult
  • Pierson leader tries to cut off relief to local fern cutters
  • Florida's high court rules Terri's law unconstitutional
  • Jacksonville students punished for putting stripper pole in dorm
  • FEMA handling nearly 600,000 applications for help
  • Man who killed wife, niece, self also killed mother in 1971
  • Producer sues city over lead ball fired by Miami police
  • Tourism suffers across Florida after pummeling by hurricanes
  • Key dates in the life of Terri Schiavo
  • An excerpt from the unanimous ruling in the Schiavo case
  • Four confirmed dead after small plane crash in Panhandle
  • Correction: Disney-Cruise Line story
  • tampabay.com

    printer version

    The science of splat

    This UF researcher scrapes together a world of bug knowledge from windshields and buses.

    photo
    [Photo by Tristan Maher]
    Dr. Mark Hostetler points out the remains of a bug that hit a Greyhound bus windshield recently. Hostetler often visits the Gainesville bus station to collect bug remains for study. If a smear really intrigues him, he removes it with a razor.

    By TRACY SWARTZ
    © St. Petersburg Times
    published July 30, 2002


    GAINESVILLE -- He peers at the front of a Greyhound bus that just pulled up outside the dingy Gainesville station. Then he sees it: a greenish splat on the front of the windshield.

    Eureka!

    "That's a lacewing," proclaims Dr. Mark Hostetler, a University of Florida researcher. "It's left over from last night."

    The front of the bus looks like most automobiles in Florida after a lengthy summer road trip. Innards and body parts of mosquitoes and the ever-present love bug cling to the bus, the telltale signs of summer bug season and the frequent afternoon showers and intense humidity.

    "Summer is by far the best time for bugs," said the insect aficionado, who was slightly disappointed that rain washed away most of the Greyhound's bug ooze. "They reproduce more in the summer."

    Examining bug splats is a "fun project" for the biologist. He frequents the Gainesville bus station, sometimes with a camera and sketch pad in hand, to jot down the color, size and shapes of the bug stains. If a smear really intrigues him, he extracts it with a razor blade and saves it for later.

    On road trips, he sometimes puts plastic wrap on his own car windshield to save the bug remnants. He peels off the plastic wrap and places it in between pieces of plexiglass for display.

    "I used to have a freezer full of film vials of smushed insects," Hostetler said.

    Hostetler's love of bugs has landed him on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno. He has written a book and is working on another. As a child, Hostetler collected toads and watched birds. His master's thesis was on cockroaches.

    He started studying bug splotches after a 1992 encounter at a gas station when a man with a bug-ridden automobile turned to him and asked, "What is this ... anyways?"

    Hostetler explained that the man's car was covered with love bugs and proceeded to tell the traveler the natural history of the much-hated bug that sticks to cars in Florida every year.

    Realizing a way to educate the lay population on insects, Hostetler spent a summer traveling the coast with a mesh net attached to the top of his car. He would remove the bugs periodically to study them.

    Hostetler's offbeat hobby turned profitable in 1996 with the release of his book, That Gunk on Your Car, which catalogs bug splats.

    He is writing a followup book that offers reasons to give up mowing the lawn. The working title? Why the Hell Should I Mow My Lawn?

    His notoriety is making him the go-to guy when it comes to bugs. He recently received a letter from a man in the Tampa Bay area who sent him a white-green insect to analyze.

    "Can you identify this for me?" Hostetler reads from the accompanying letter. Examining the insect, Hostetler guesses that it is a whitefly.

    But, because of the shape the insects are in after they ker-splat on a windshield, Hostetler usually can't identify the species, unless they are love bugs. Sometimes he can narrow it down to the insect's order or family. And some splats baffle him -- the gunk may be a menagerie of several bugs or rain may have washed away identifying features.

    On the Greyhound bus he inspected one day last week, Hostetler found a few muddled spots that left him puzzled. As passengers filed onto the bus, a few stared at the curious man studying the splats.

    "Who, him?" asked John Posey, Greyhound bus terminal manager. "That's just the Bug Man."

    Back to State news

    Back to Top

    © 2006 • All Rights Reserved • Tampa Bay Times
    490 First Avenue South • St. Petersburg, FL 33701 • 727-893-8111
     
    Special Links
    Lucy Morgan


    From the Times state desk