Leaf rolling weevil (Byctiscus populi)

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Leaf rolling weevil
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Leaf rolling weevil fact file

Leaf rolling weevil description

KingdomAnimalia
PhylumArthropoda
ClassInsecta
OrderColeoptera
FamilyAttelabidae
GenusByctiscus (1)

This leaf rolling weevil has a shiny metallic upper surface, which varies in colour from bright green to a vibrant coppery red. The underside, legs and elongated snout, known as the 'rostrum' are deep violet-blue to black in colour (2). Males can be distinguished from females as they have two very small spines on their pronotum(2), the function of which is unknown (4).

Size
Length: 4- 5.5 mm (2)
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Leaf rolling weevil biology

Females create thin, tight 'leaf-rolls' from one or two aspen leaves in which 1-4 small white eggs are laid. Leaf-roll construction is an extraordinarily complex behaviour, which can take up to 2 hours of careful nibbling, rostrum stamping, tugging and sealing with anal secretions. Occasionally a male may assist the female and defend her from other amorous males by engaging in fierce battles involving head-to-head wrestling and violent rostrum tapping (4). After hatching, larvae remain in the rolls, which fall to the ground, feeding for around 15 days. They then burrow into the soil to pupate; adults emerge above ground and over-winter, the location of over-wintering is at present unknown.

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Leaf rolling weevil range

B. populi is fairly common and widely distributed throughout central-western Europe and is also found in the Mediterranean area, the Nordic countries, Asia Minor, central Asia, Siberia, Mongolia and northern China (3). In Britain the species is currently classified as rare, but was once distributed across most of southern England and up into Norfolk, Worcestershire and east Gloucestershire (3). There are currently only a handful of sites in England (5).

You can view distribution information for this species at the National Biodiversity Network Gateway.
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Leaf rolling weevil habitat

This species feeds and lays its eggs on aspen Populus tremula, and white poplar, Populus alba. Recent studies on the ecology of this species in England and Latvia have shown that it prefers young regenerating aspen under 2.8 meters tall in full sun (4).

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Leaf rolling weevil status

Classified as Rare in Great Britain (3).

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Leaf rolling weevil threats

The decline of this attractive beetle is thought to be due to inappropriate woodland management including the removal of aspen, the loss of sunny glades and the reduction in coppice management (3). The isolation of B. populi populations in an unfavourable landscape may prevent the colonisation of suitable sites (4). Furthermore, larvae inside leaf-rolls that have fallen to the ground are subject to predation, possibly by small mammals and ground beetles (5).

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Leaf rolling weevil conservation

Byctiscus populi is a priority species under the UK Biodiversity Action Plan, which aims to enhance the current population. A number of the sites on which the species occurs are SSSIs (3). English Nature has funded ongoing research into the ecology and conservation of this species. Preliminary results emerging from this research have suggested that areas of aspen occupied by this species should be protected against predation and trampling by humans, and that regenerating aspen should be cut on rotation every 4 years in order to maintain trees of a suitable height. If the UK population does not increase, captive breeding and release programmes may be feasible (5).

There may be further information about this species available via the National Biodiversity Network Gateway.
The UK Biodiversity Action Plan for this species is available at UK BAP.
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Authentication

Information authenticated by Jon Mellings (independent ecologist).

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Glossary

Coppicing
Traditional form of woodland management in which trees are cut close to the base of the trunk. Re-growth occurs in the form of many thin poles. Woodlands are cut in this way on rotation, producing a mosaic of different stages of re-growth.
Larvae
Stage in an animal's lifecycle after it hatches from the egg. Larvae are typically very different in appearance to adults; they are able to feed and move around but usually are unable to reproduce.
Pronotum
In insects, the hardened cuticle on the upper surface of the first thoracic segment (the part of the body nearest the head).
Pupate
The process of forming a pupa, the stage in an insect's development, when huge changes occur that reorganise the larval form into the adult form. In butterflies the pupa is also called a chrysalis.
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References

  1. UNEP-WCMC (2002 http://quin.unep-wcmc.org/
  2. Fowler, W.W. (1891) The Coleoptera of the British Isles, vol 5. Reeve and Co. London.
  3. UK Biodiversity Action Plan. http://www.ukbap.org.uk
  4. Evans, L (2001) A study on Byctiscus populi in Latvia and implications for conservation management in the UK. MSc Thesis. University of Leeds.
  5. J. Mellings. (2002) Pers. Comm.
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Image credit

Leaf rolling weevil  
Leaf rolling weevil

© Roger Key

Dr Roger Key
Tel: +44 (0) 1845 567 292
key_r_s@yahoo.co.uk

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