I Dream of Weevils Part 1

weevil handJemma here! So picture this. You’ve just started a summer internship and everything is going well. You get back from a long day of collecting and looking through samples of insects and the only thing on your mind is sweet, blissful sleep. So you start to wind down, maybe watch an episode or two of your favorite show on Netflix, jump in the shower, throw on some comfy pajamas, brush your teeth and then you finally get into bed. Now that you finally have the chance to relax you start to give in to the welcoming arms of sleep and close your eyes……..and all you see are weevils! Your eyelids become the backdrop to a sea of green worm like creatures wiggling around in your mind and despite your best efforts you can’t find the pause button to this haunting showing of insects.

Why was I seeing weevils you ask? Well allow me to explain. For the good part of two weeks I helped the rest of our crew collect and sort the samples that we gathered from alfalfa fields in Southeast Wyoming and also in the Big Horn Basin near Powell, Wyoming. Once these samples are collected they are then brought back to the lab or hotel room where we sort out the weevils to be reared. If you want to know more about the collection process you can take a look at Zoe’s blog post on “Hotel Room Science.” The rearing process involves searching through the Ziploc bags of vegetation and other insects in order to find 100 weevils that we will keep alive for another couple of weeks to see if any of the weevils have been parasitized.  This process may seem simple, but I guarantee it isn’t. We try to sort the Ziploc bags for rearing on the same day that the sample is collected, so this means that all of the insects that were caught in our sweep net are still alive. While rearing we are looking for weevils that are in their fourth or fifth instar, meaning that they are big enough and healthy enough to get the attention of a parasitoid wasp and hopefully they are a host for wasp eggs. These weevils are larger in size and have a lime green strip down the middle of their backs, the rest of them are a dark green color. So once you find one of these big and juicy weevils you open the bag and try to pick it out. This is easier said than done because once you open the bag all of the flying insects try to escape! You may also witness a sneak attack by a spider that is hiding in the alfalfa, where they are waiting for the perfect moment to try and make a run for the opening in the bag, which sometimes means that they start to scurry up your arm! Rearing takes a great deal of focus, patience and skill that I never thought I would need, but I am glad that I have had the chance to experience it. It also involves hours and hours of looking through vegetation and other insects to pick out the weevils that will have the greatest chance of being parasitized.

I spent the good part of a week peering into bag after bag of field samples and every time I closed my eyes all I saw was a sea of green, wiggling weevils. Fortunately we had a few field days after that and my vision was once again clear and my dreams were no longer infested with weevils. But you had better believe that I will never forget the summer where I dreamed about weevils!

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