playing dead

Last night, after working in the vegetable garden, I came in and sat down with my laptop to check email. A short time later, I found this tiny green weevil — I’m quite sure it’s a Pale Green Weevil (Polydrusus impressifrons) – wandering around the keyboard. It’s very minute – about the length of a grain of rice (if that). In his book Insects: Their Natural History and Diversity, Stephen Marshall states that the three species of Polydrusus were accidentally introduced from Europe to North America, and are now among the most common weevils on poplar, willow and birch. I’ve photographed these before and found that the coloring and interesting articulation of their legs is beautiful and fascinating.

In true weevil fashion, they are prone to playing dead when threatened. When I moved this weevil back outdoors and placed it on a leaf, it immediately rolled over and lay very still for about twenty seconds before kicking itself upright. The “undercarriage” of many beetles often reminds me a little of an overturned car, or better still, some kind of Mars exploration vehicle.

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18 Responses to “playing dead”

  1. robin andrea Says:

    That’s such a great shot of the weevil “playing dead.” I’ve always found playing dead an interesting defense mechanism. I think it would make a wonderful series of photographs to show all the animals that play dead, playing dead.

    The weevil does look like an overturned car.

  2. Dave Says:

    Beautiful thing, isn’t it?

  3. Boobook Says:

    Stunning photos, beautiful colours. I wonder what damage he does in the vegie garden:)

  4. Wayne Says:

    Very pretty weevil there, Bev. I hadn’t realized weevils were actually beetles, but of course they are!

    The Curculionidae have some additional modifications to add to those you mention – a long snout, for one. When we studied cotton embryogenesis, we’d occasionally encounter a boll weevil inside the boll. It was always a shock to be peering through a dissecting scope and encounter this enraged, evil-looking critter looking back up at you.

  5. Clare Says:

    I’ve always wondered about the utility of playing dead as a strategy, especially with prey that wanted to eat you. In many cases flight would seem to be a better option, but I guess here it is the lesser of the two weevils.

  6. bev Says:

    robin – I wonder about the “playing dead” strategy too. How often do they play dead, only to be eaten because they are such easy prey? That said, they do roll away and bounce down into the foliage below quite well, so perhaps it’s as much an escape strategy as anything else.

    Dave – I very much agree.

    Boobook – Thank you! I think these may be more a tree pest than a garden one. From past experience, I’ve found that few bugs are really all that destructive to garden plants. I usually just plant a little extra of everything to feed the insects. (-:

    Wayne – I can just imagine finding an enraged weevil glaring back at you through the dissecting scope. That must be quite a sight!

  7. Laiku Oh Says:

    Hi, it’s Laiku! I haven’t ever seen a weevil in my whole life. Only in textbooks and picture dictionaries, actually. I always thought of boll weevils as evil little bugs that liked to rip out crops (plus the scary eyes). I really wish I had your camera, but I know that your photographic skills are also part of it. I also think that bugs’ legs are really fascinating. They are usually incredibly thin and small, yet they are the mechanisms that support the insect’s body. I never heard of bugs playing dead, except for spiders (which are not even insects, but arachnids). I really like those shot. By the way, the summer is going to be really hot this year. Do you think that it is because of global warming? And just to update, it turns out that I didn’t raise caterpillars the last year. Also, there was recently an insane amount of houseflies in my house (maybe a month ago). It was because a baby bird was unfortunately squished when my mother closed the dryer. I was really shocked when I heard of that. All the bug problems are pretty much solved, though. I hope that I won’t get mosquito bites again, though!

  8. bev Says:

    Clare — Oh, I should have known that a wordsmith like you would come up with the line about the weevils! ha!

    Hi Laiku – Good to see you dropping by for a visit! I always think about you whenever someone sends me an email asking about Black Swallowtail butterflies. I think insect legs are quite fantastic, especially when you see the size of some of the insect bodies that they support, and also how strong those insects are in relation to their size. Regarding this summer weather, while I think that global warming has a part to play in the overall scheme of things, this summer’s heat wave probably has more to do with general weather trends and cycles. That’s unfortunate about the baby bird, and yes, that could certainly result in quite a number of flies. Have you got any kind of a digital camera yet? Some of the new models are quite capable of taking nice photos of insects — at least, of larger ones such as caterpillars.

  9. Laiku Oh Says:

    I do have a digital camera, but it’s outdated. I still use it for things, though. I use my sister’s camera more often. Plus, my camera’s battery latch is broken! I don’t have good batteries, either. Do you know a good brand that sells long lasting batteries? And I am intrigued by the proprotions of legs to bodies as well, as a side note for this thread.

  10. Mark P Says:

    I kept meaning to comment, so now I will. That weevil looks like a nice piece of turquoise jewelry. I can imagine some woman wearing it in Santa Fe. I might consider it as a pin on the felt hat I almost never wear.

  11. bev Says:

    Laiku – Just about any of the new cameras would be a good choice. I prefer Nikon cameras, but I have friends with Canons who really like them too.

    Mark – I find some of these beetles (especially this species of weevil) to look so much as though they are made of turquoise or other stones. It’s really quite fantastic.

  12. DougT Says:

    I see these weevils fairly frequently. I never knew they were introduced.

  13. Mark Says:

    It is always a treat to stop by here – I always see and learn something interesting right away. Never knew about bugs playing dead, thought that one was reserved for oppossums! :-) I think the rolled over pic is hilarious. A pic that could have a thousand different captions.

  14. John Says:

    Bev, it’s been awhile since I’ve posted a comment. I still stop by, but just haven’t been awash in words. Anyway, I just want to echo your other readers; the photos of the weevil are exceptional. Something the size of a grain of rice being so complex and photogenic! I suspect your skills could make my cracked fingernail look beautiful, though!

  15. Cindy Says:

    incredible photos! i always learn something here (and have said this b4 i know) ;)
    hope all is well sweets- need to email you about possibly contibuying to the ‘moth guide in progress’ but know you’re a bizzy bee.. talk soonish.

  16. EJ Says:

    Lovely photos! I would guess playing dead would help bypass predators instincts to pounce or snatch. It also helps make prey harder to notice.

  17. Paul Decelles Says:

    Great pictures of these guys. I haven’t seen them here in Kansas but supposedly they are found here .

  18. Robert Says:

    This is amazing!Its like it was dipped in green glitter=]

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