Here I am in the lab, gently nurturing about eight thousand seeds. I've spent the past two months collecting them from up and down Panama. They come in all kinds of crazy shapes and sizes. Some look squat little fat men waiting grumpily on the forest floor. Others are covered aggressively in hundreds of spines. Some have giant wings. Still more are coated in fluff. But my absolute favourites have to be members of the genus Machaerium (from the Latin for sword) - so named, fantastically enough, because their seeds are supposed to look like miniature cutlasses...
What I'm interested in are the insects that live inside the seeds. Once collected, we sit tight and wait for the insects to emerge (whereupon we pounce, and, well, sorrowfully sacrifice them for science). So far it's been beetles, moths, and a stupendous amount of larvae. But today I turned to the Machaeriums, and found... weevils!
I'm probably far too excited about this, but WEEVILS! Because what could be better than beetles that look like elephants (they look like they have trunks)? Seriously? My weevils are all a bit too tiny to get a good photo of (though the miniature-ness kinda adds to their charm :p ), but here are a few general weevily pictures from Google to show you what I'm talking about if you're new to the concept of six-legged Borrower-sized elephants:
Call me silly, but isn't there something amazing (a bit magical...?) about thousands of tiny elephants inside miniature cutlasses flying down from the tops of thirty-foot-high rainforest trees? I think it's great. :)
I'll try and get a photo of my particular weevils - watch this space! And we're expecting many many more over the coming months... Ah, weevils.
Adventures of a
Dr Patrick Kennedy, Radford Lab, University of Bristol | Zoology