Wonderful weevil collection comes to Museum

27 August 2010

A unique collection of more than 45,000 weevils has arrived at the Natural History Museum and some are on display from today.

Some of the 100s of boxes of weevils

Some of the 100s of boxes of weevils © Libby Livermore

The weevil collection was assembled by Oldřich Voříšek, a private collector from the Czech Republic, who spent more than 40 years collecting the beetles.

With 4,500 different weevil species, the Voříšek collection is the largest of its kind and almost half of the species are new to the Museum’s collections.

'Our collection is one of the largest and most comprehensive in the world,' says Museum beetle expert Max Barclay.

'Hundreds of scientists visit it because it is so complete. It is kept alive by acquiring new material, and this is the most important acquisition of its kind in half a century.'

The weevils were collected from across Europe and the former Soviet states, areas that are poorly represented in the Museum’s collections.

The Voříšek collection also includes 750 type specimens. These are the actual specimens used to describe new species.

The Museum's Entomology Department will incorporate the weevils into the huge insect collection of more than 28 million specimens. They will be studied by Museum scientists and researchers from around the world as Museum weevil researcher and expert Chris Lyal explains

'The Museum collection is important for detailed knowledge of, and our ability to identify, individual species, our understanding of weevil evolution, and our growing picture of global biodiversity, as we support measures to conserve and manage it.  

'Adding such a number of species to the collection greatly increases its value to research in the UK and across the world.'

The long projection or rostrum can be seen in this close-up of 2 weevils

The long projection, or rostrum, can be seen in this close-up of 2 weevils. © Libby Livermore

Weevils are beetles

Weevils are beetles that vary in length from less than a millimetre to more than 130 times that. The smallest known weevil, Myrtonymus zelandicus, is 0.7mm long, blind, and lives in the soil in New Zealand. The largest is the giant palm weevil, Protocerius colossus, which can reach 9.4cm in length. 

Most weevils can be recognised by a long projection on the front of the head called a rostrum. They are the largest group of animals on the planet, with 62,000 known species. 

Weevils play an essential role in land ecosystems worldwide. They are very important herbivores, or plant-eaters, as they live on most species of plant, different species eating leaves, roots, stems, buds and seeds. They also provide food for thousands of insect-eating animals.

Weevil display
Weevils pinned in position

Weevils pinned in position © Libby Livermore

A selection of the weevils, some from Soviet states, eastern Europe and Taiwan, are on show in a small display from today in time for the busy Bank Holiday period. The special display is called ‘What’s with all the weevils?’ and is in Dinosaur Way in the Blue Zone until January 2011.

Good and bad for crops

While many weevils live harmlessly to humanity in the world’s forests and grasslands, some species cause millions of pounds of damage to crops like cotton and grain.

In contrast, many countries use weevils to control agricultural weeds. North American weevils were recently released in Somerset by British Waterways to help control an invasive North American water fern that is threatening wildlife by smothering canals in a thick mat. Other weevils are worth millions of pounds a year as they pollinate plants like oil palm.

  • by Yvonne Da Silva
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Further information

  • Visit the What's with all the weevils? small display in the Museum

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