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The Remarkable Giraffe Weevil of Madagascar

Thursday, 31 May 2012

Three guesses how the giraffe weevil gets its name. Unsurprisingly, this extraordinary looking Madagascan creature gets the name from its stupendously long neck.  It is three times longer in the male than the female of the species (Trachelophorus giraffa). As such it is sexually dimorphic – the male’s neck is used for aggressive combat.

When it comes to mating, it is certainly the male of the species which is more deadly.  The giraffe weevil has evolved its extended neck to fight for the right to a nearby female (which will patiently await the outcome of the fight and even occasionally act as a kind of referee before procreating with the winner). They show no aggression towards other species, neither hunting nor eating other animals. It is rare for males to kill each other in this struggle.

The giraffe weevil comes from Madagascar, which is a large island off the east coast of Africa. Its isolation from the continent meant that many strange creatures evolved there which are found nowhere else in the world.  Although there is another giraffe weevil in New Zealand the Madagascan one wins any beauty contest hands down with its glorious red elytra (a modified, hardened fore-wing)  covering the flying wings. Oh yes, it flies too!


This remarkable video from the BBC shows the courtship of the Giraffe Weevil as well as the next step – the construction of a protective home for a single egg.

Although the species is not listed as threatened or endangered, little is known about it as it was only recently discovered (2008).  However, the population is thought to be healthy and, remarkably, they are not predated by any other species.It is suspected that the eggs may be occasionally eaten by smaller bugs, leading the male to protectively hang around after mating, but even this is not proven.

They also have rather odd looking manipulative pedipalps (the things that look like mandibles) on the head and this lends the giraffe weevil an even stranger appearance.  If you are beginning to get palpitations and to fear nightmares, rest assured. Although these pictures make them look somewhat larger, they will usually only get to around an inch in length. They would never, ever bite you either – they are interested only in leaves.

The adults feed on a tree which is known as (you know this is coming) the giraffe beetle tree (Dichaetanthera arborea).  The weevils will spend the greater part of their lives on these trees and rarely venture far from them.

The female lays a single egg on a leaf and then rolls it up giving its unborn progeny both protection and a food source for when it hatches. This behavior was only noted in 2011 when it was filmed for the BBC natural history series Madagascar.

Charismatic or creepy? You choose but the Giraffe Weevil of Madagascar is certainly unusual and testimony to the wonderful diversity of planet Earth, our ark in space.

Acknowledgements
Ark in Space would like to thank the following for their kind permission to show you their remarkable photographs: Linda de Volder aka Flickr Photographer Peregrin@ and Flickr Photographer Pere Soler, whose eponymous website you can find here.

First Image Credit Frank Vassen

Amung Feedjit