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WHY WEEVILS?

June 30, 2014

WHY WEEVILS?

Weevils can be found anywhere there are plants or plant remains. They feed on leaves in the forest canopy, burrow into tree bark, scavenge through leaf litter on the forest floor

Weevils can be found anywhere there are plants or plant remains. They feed on leaves in the forest canopy, burrow into tree bark, scavenge through leaf litter on the forest floor. There are some 60,000 known species in the world, but many more not yet described by science. Hundreds of such unnamed specimens reside in STRI’s insect collection.

The collection was waiting for Salvatore Anzaldo to come along. As part of the young taxonomist’s Ph.D. work, Anzaldo is preparing a new identification key to the weevil subfamily Conoderinae in Panama, reclassifying a number of genera and sorting out species’ correct spots on the tree of life.

“Without that collection, I would not be able to do this key because I wouldn’t have enough specimens,” said Anzaldo, who studies at Arizona State University.

The collection was largely curated by Henry Stockwell, a physician and talented amateur taxonomist whose collection includes more than 3,000 specimens of Panamanian conoderine weevils and collaborates with STRI’s Annette Aiello and Don Windsor.

As their taxonomic anonymity suggests, weevils are woefully understudied. Anzaldo, who participated in STRI’s IGERT course, especially wants to learn more about their widespread utilization of mimicry. Conoderine weevils pass themselves off as flies, bees, ants or even other beetles — a product of a long co-evolutionary history with other organisms.

“To answer some of the broader evolutionary questions you need to look at the taxonomy and have a phylogeny,” he said. “There’s so much still left to figure out about these guys.”

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