Weevil research

Cryptorhynchine weevil

Cryptorhynchine weevil from Panama

Principal Investigator

Dr Chris Lyal

Project summary

Focus: establishing stability in species names, researching host specificity of weevils and understanding phylogenetic relationships

The weevils are a huge group of beetles. The superfamily Curculionoidea includes some 65,000 to 70,000 described species and possibly another 150,000 remain to be discovered and named.

Weevils are mostly plant-feeders, and have diversified depending on their food type, such as seeds or dead wood, or coevolved with their hosts, remaining associated with a single plant lineage.  

Key areas of work are:

  • establishing stability in species names used
  • researching host specificity of weevils (especially seed-feeders)
  • understanding phylogenetic relationships between major groups

Another important area of work is to assist taxonomists worldwide by increasing their access to information about these insects.

We have a number of ongoing projects:

Weevil higher classification

With more than 40,000 species, the weevil family Curculionidae is the largest of all animal families.

Due to its size, there is no consensus on the composition of major groups within it leading to confusion globally on how to identify weevils, and recognise higher taxa.  

Current research aims to clarify the composition of two of the largest of the weevil subfamilies, Molytinae and Cryptorhynchinae.  

A thorough morphological analysis has led to these subfamilies being synonymised, and several tribes within each being combined. The analysis also suggests at least two radiations in the Neotropics, and suggests a totally new way of arranging the beetles in a classification.

 

Undescribed weevil species

Damnux – undescribed species found in a dipterocarp seed

 

Investigating the use of genes

Project staff: Conrad Gillet

One area of research is investigating the use of a variety of genes for weevil phylogenetic reconstruction. 

The focus is on type genera of family-groups and ‘microsequences’ of DNA, to maximise the potential use of the dry collection, where genetic material tends to be denatured.  

Establishing stability in weevil names

Collaborator: Miguel Alonso-Zarazaga

Many of the vast number of weevil species have been named more than once, or have had their names misspelled.  Entomologists at the Natural History Museum and colleagues overseas are collaborating in sorting out nomenclatural problems and providing a single, expert-checked, name for each species and genus.

Recently published material includes:

  • a review of the generic and family-group names of bark beetles and powder-post beetles (Scolytinae and Platypodinae)
  • a chapter on the Dryopthorid species published in the Palaearctic catalogue  

A major project is an online database of weevil names which is used as a basis by initiatives such as Species 2000 and GBIF.

Weevil

Pseudoxyonyx meregallii (Colonnelli), weevil

 

Seed-feeding weevils

Collaborator: Sara Pinzon Navarro

Research is focussed on the identities and host associations of weevils that feed on the fruit and seeds of plants in tropical forests.

The weevils feed on the seeds as larvae, which are very difficult to identify.  Studies in forests in Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia and Brunei have involved rearing these larvae to adults in the field.

This extensive research has lead to a database of insect seed-feeders on the Asian tree family Dipterocarpaceae and has created a valuable tool for studying the ecology and impact of weevil species on tree seeds. 

INOTAXA project

Collaborator: Anna Weitzman (Smithsonian)

Finding precise information in the taxonomic literature can be difficult, especially for those in institutions away from large libraries.

The INOTAXA project, in collaboration with members from the Smithsonian Institution, is a system that enables access to and data mining of literature. 

The prototype of this new system is on the web at and contains several hundred pages of Neotropical weevil descriptions taken from different sources, as well as pages on fish and, soon, many other organisms.

It can display:

  • descriptions
  • keys
  • specimen lists
  • collecting sites and many other data and information from the literature in a manner not possible for other systems

To avoid having to rear larvae to maturity, since they often die, DNA barcodes have been used on Central American forest studies to associate larvae and adults.

Visit the INOTAXA website

 

Weevil information online

The Museum weevil team has created a web-based system for collaboration with other weevil taxonomists.

The site provides information about weevils and a platform for international discussion and is now used by weevil researchers worldwide.

This project is one of the EDIT Scratchpads

Weevil information online

Biodiversity research

We are creating molecular and digital tools to explore undiscovered biodiversity

Insect research

Our scientists are conserving and investigating the Museum's collections to help with cutting edge research

Coleoptera collections

The Museum’s collection is amongst the oldest and in the world, with approximately 10 million specimens