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The Scicurious Brain

The Scicurious Brain

The Good, Bad, and Weird in Physiology and Neuroscience

IgNobel Prize WINNER: The beetle and the beer bottle, a tragic love story.

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I promised I'd cover all the winners, and here we go! Beginning with this year's IgNobel prize in Biology, which goes to a study on the Australian Jewel Beetle. Poor Australian Jewel Beetle. For his is a tragic story of mistaken identities and forbidden lust.

"Beetles on the Bottle: Male Buprestids Mistake Stubbies for Females(Coleoptera)," D.T. Gwynne, and D.C.F. Rentz, Journal of the Australian Entomological Society, vol. 22, 1983, pp. 79-80.

Additional source: Hawkeswood, TJ. "Review of the biology and host plants of the Australian jewel beetle Julodimorpha bakewelli." Calodema, 2005.

The Australian Jewel Beetle is native to South Australia. The males fly, the females are ground bound. They spend their babyhood (the larval stage) on eucallyptus plants, and their adulthood hanging around acacias. During mating season every year, the males fly around, searching for the shiny brown backs of the females crawling on the ground. When they find a likely lady, they hop on, evert their genetalia, and go to town. All's going great in South Australia…

…and then the humans came. With their stuff. Most particularly, with their BEER BOTTLES.

See, female jewel beetles are a very nice shiny color of yellow brown. Something else that is a nice shiny yellow brown is the Australian beer bottle known as a "stubby". I'm not entirely sure what a "stubby" is, whether it's particular to a specific Australian brand, or whether it's just your basic brown beer bottle a la Bud Lite (which I suspect). No matter what, the male jewel beetles find those stubbies a simply irresistible attraction, leaving the poor female jewel beetles lonesome and looking in the mirror, wondering how a guy could possibly choose a beer bottle like THAT over a fine specimen like HER.

And two scientists, Gwynne and Rentz, noticed the jewel beetles flying around during mating season within 1-2 meters of the ground (bets that they noticed due to being smacked in the face with one??). And they noticed the male beetles landing on the beer bottles. Curious, they drank a bunch of beer, and some wine (ok, maybe they poured it out, but they are scientists and I doubt it), laid the bottles out on the ground, and waited. Sure enough, within 30 minutes the beetles were all over the stubbies, but the wine bottles which were a different color of brown got no beetles. The authors hypothesize that the stubbies act as a "supernormal releaser" for male mating behavior, resembling a really nice plump healthy female, much more brown and shiny than they would find in real life. No one has yet studied is this is a problem for the beetle population in Southern Australia (are the beetles wasting their sperm and killing off the beetle population with their forbidden lust?!), but it's definitely a cool and interesting observable phenomena!

Poor male jewel beetle. Doomed to lust forever after a stubby that's never going to care about him. So if you live in Southern Australia, make sure you recycle your beer bottles and don't litter. Every stubby you leave on the ground may be breaking some poor beetle's heart!

Gwynne, D., & Rentz, D. (1983). BEETLES ON THE BOTTLE: MALE BUPRESTIDS MISTAKE STUBBIES FOR FEMALES (COLEOPTERA) Australian Journal of Entomology, 22 (1), 79-80 DOI: 10.1111/j.1440-6055.1983.tb01846.x

Edited to add: I heard from the authors on this, and the "stubbies" are indeed bottles with shortened necks, apparently all from a particular brewery in South Australia. They also note that they did all of the experiments in the morning, using beer bottles littered by the highway, and that all experiments were done only under the influence of coffee!

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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