Origami Weevils

I always get excited when I encounter the work of leaf-rolling weevils (Attelabidae), even though they are by no means uncommon. I just find it fascinating that these insects have learned to fold leaves into neat little cylindrical packets for their larvae to live inside, without the use of silk or any other adhesive. The female starts by making two cuts in a leaf that meet at the midrib, as shown here:

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She then folds, rolls, and tucks the severed portion of the leaf, laying a single egg inside this packet, with the end result looking like this:

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The species shown above is Synolabus nigripes, which apparently feeds only on sumac (in this case winged sumac, Rhus copallinum). I’ve only encountered it once or twice; what I usually see are rolls on oak (or occasionally chestnut) made by Attelabus bipustulatus (shown here) or perhaps other species.

Last August when I was teaching my Tracks & Sign of Insects… workshop at the Eagle Hill Institute in Maine, we came across some weevil leaf rolls on speckled alder (Alnus incana), which was a first for me.

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We took a couple of them back to the lab to examine, and one of the participants unraveled one to reveal the egg inside:

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I kept the other one in a vial to see if an adult would eventually emerge. Eight months later—yesterday—it did!

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I opened the roll up to see what had been going on in there all this time, and not surprisingly, beneath the outer layer of leaf, everything inside had been converted to weevil poop.

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It wasn’t just a disorganized wad of poop though. When it had had its fill of the leaf tissue, the larva had packed all of its frass against the remaining outer leaf layer, creating a smooth-walled, roomy cell in which to pupate.

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At one end of the cell, there were a few differently textured, yellowish fecal pellets, which I assume were meconium deposited by the newly emerged adult weevil.

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Naturally, before taking the above photos I finished my portrait session with the weevil.

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It turns out this is a species (Himatolabus pubescens) that I had met once before, six years earlier and 3000 miles away, nibbling on an oak leaf at Madera Canyon. According to Art Evans’ Beetles of Eastern North America, adults of this species have been found on hazelnut (Corylus) and rosemallow (Hibiscus) as well as alder and oak.

About Charley Eiseman

I am a freelance naturalist, endlessly fascinated by the interconnections of all the living and nonliving things around me. I am the lead author of Tracks & Sign of Insects and Other Invertebrates (Stackpole Books, 2010), and continue to collect photographs and information on this subject. These days I am especially drawn to galls, leaf mines, and other plant-insect interactions.
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10 Responses to Origami Weevils

  1. Lisa Rainsong says:

    What an interesting post – everything about this is fascinating. And that’s a very cute weevil, too!

  2. Judy Eiseman says:

    I’m not sure how you’ve done it, but I do find these critters sort of adorable as a result of your protraits. Fun and fascinating post!

  3. irisclearwater says:

    You take the best insect portraits! And such beautiful and thoughtful illustrations of their life cycles. I could imagine a show of these at a natural history museum, along with an awesome coffee table book at the gift store…

  4. Priscilla Douglas says:

    You do such amazing work!!!!

  5. Jena Johnson says:

    Love this and all your other posts about insects. I look forward to the next one. In the meantime I’ll be on the lookout for this weevil in my neck of the woods.

  6. Thanks for the lesson. I found it and the photos really interesting.

  7. cigadam says:

    Hi Charley. I found 4 of these hanging from white birch leaves last summer. I kept them for a month, then decided to open them. They were all empty.

  8. Thank you for Tracks and Sign ofo Insects and others… I’m quite fond of weevils myself, having studied root weevils for way too many years to get an advanced degree.

  9. Linda G. says:

    I love this! You present everything so well (the writing and the photos) making it easy to understand, leading the reader step-by-step in anticipation. Thanks so much! Great weevil pics!

  10. Vicky Talbert says:

    Wow! This is so amazing. Thank you.

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