Sunday 22 September 2013

Giraffe Weevil

Image Frank Vassen
Trachelophorus giraffa
Forget the wide-eyed lemurs, grotesquely overweight trees and miniature chameleons who could live a full and eventful life clinging to a perm, the real majesty of Madagascar is in its Giraffe Weevils.

There are more than 60,000 species of Weevil in the world, the most famous ones being those who use their long snout to bore into plants or dry foods like nuts and flour. Some of them are significant competitors for various fruits, vegetables and grains we like to eat. But they're far too small for us to take them seriously as competition so we just call them pests.

Leaf-rolling Weevils are a little different from most other Weevils. Not only do a lot of them lack a long, thin snout but, as if they simply refuse to do without having SOMETHING ridiculously long and thin, they have a long, thin neck instead.

Image: Frank Vassen
Few, however, are quite as long and thin as that of Madagascar's Giraffe Weevil.

The male Giraffe Weevil, that is. The female's neck is modest in comparison, probably because she has some actual work to do. Leaf-rolling Weevils didn't get their name for nothing!

Madagascar is full of charming, bright-eyed creatures who would just love to feast upon the supple flesh of mother Weevil's growing larvae. As you might imagine, she's opposed to this. Unfortunately cotton wool and bubble wrap are rare in the rainforest, so she wraps her children in a huge leaf instead.

Video: BBC

It's long, arduous work for the female Giraffe Weevil. She has to cut lots of slits all the way down the leaf's central vein and then use her legs to fold the whole thing in half. Next, she rolls the entire thing up into a tight cylinder, using yet more bites to keep it from unrolling. Then she tucks the sides in so it's all safe and secure. After several hours of this lonesome engineering, she'll lay a single egg in the centre of the elaborate structure.

Not to be outdone, the male Giraffe Weevil's neck is 2 or 3 times longer than the female's.

Image: Nicky Rakoto
He looks tremendous with his elegantly disturbing neck, the shiny black body bringing out the bright red of his wing cases. He looks like a sort of organic crane, a vision of a wondrous, bio-engineered future where our bulldozers are giant Mole Crickets and Bombardier Beetles paint our walls.

It's also the kind of madness a gentleman can get away with when he doesn't have to work for a living. A gentleman must fight, though! The ladies won't go along with any old schmuck, they must prove their worth through the ancient art of fisticuffs.

Presumably they use savage blows of the neck, not unlike actual giraffes, only tinier and less painful to watch. It's brutal and barbaric necking all the way, as the female Giraffe Weevil stands nearby watching and encouraging.

"Hit him!" she screams.
"Bash him in proper!" she shrieks.
"If you really loved me you'd show him what for and no mistake!" she squeals.

She doesn't say it to any particular one of the rivals, it's just general encouragement to anyone who happens to be fighting at the time.

Image: Ralph Kränzlein
Eventually one of the protagonists bows out (a significant undertaking for such a neck). With her bloodlust finally assuaged, the female can get back to leaf-rolling while the victorious male just kind of hangs around and gets in the way. It's a common activity among independently wealthy, essentially ornamental gentleman.

Soon enough, an egg is laid and a grub is born. It grows up quite ignorant of the drama that led to its birth, as it lounges mollycoddled in layer after layer of thickly coiled leaf. But it can't last. Soon our innocent milksop must pupate and emerge into the adult world of violence and romance, doomed as it is to the eternal repetition of life's unflinching wheel.

They get some sweet neck out of it, though. It's all swings and roundabouts!


Thanks to @dieKali for suggesting this one! Great, big, long-necked thanks!


TexWisGirl said...

'bows out' bwahaha...

what a freaky thing!!!

Joseph JG said...


It doesn't get much more ludicrous than that!

Syeda Rafiya Shehnaz Urdu High school Daulatabad said...

" This thing is really gorgeous, as you know I had seen this insect when I was active insect looker"

Lear's Fool said...

Oh! Unrelated, but how does one send you recommendations?

This little jumper is amazing!

(They're both batesian AND aggressive mimics! And quite clever and sneaky. They travel in packs to look like ants to scare away mama spiders and eat their babies)

Esther said...

He looks like he would make a lovely set square~

Joseph JG said...

@Ishrat: It is rather lovely, in a delightfully absurd way!

@Lear's Fool: You can email I'm typically very bad/slow and getting onto them, though.

But those spiders sound amazing! There are so many ant-mimics but I'd never considered the idea of them taking the next step and becoming a little more social. Wow!

@Esther: Haha! The mathematical fruits of the rainforest!

Lear's Fool said...

@Joseph Gotcha! And yeah, they're pretty interesting little critters. I mean, a lot of the ant-mimic jumpers are kind of freaky when they open their jaws . . .

But the behavior of those guys is just. . . yeah, they kick it up a notch, don't they?

Joseph JG said...

Oh, wow! That picture is crazy!

Lear's Fool said...

You inspired me to re-find the video of them fighting!

That's why it took jumping spiders hunting in packs disguised as ants to pass them up as 'favorite ant-mimic jumper' :)

Also, Giraffe Weevils are awesome. :)

Joseph JG said...

That programme looks cool! I'll have to give a watch soon.