Unveiling the hidden heroes: Weevils as surprising pollinators

The insects were previously regarded as pests.
Loukia Papadopoulos
A weevil on a leaf
A weevil on a leaf


A new study is shedding light on the incredible pollinating abilities of the long-snouted beetles called weevils. 

This is according to a press release published by the Field Museum this week.

“Even people who work on pollination don't usually consider weevils as one of the main pollinators, and people who work on weevils don't usually consider pollination as something relevant to the group,” said Bruno de Medeiros, an assistant curator of insects at Chicago’s Field Museum and the senior author of the study. 

“There are lots of important things that people are missing because of preconceptions.”

The scientists identified about 400,000 species of beetles, among which the largest group of beetles are the weevils. 

“There are 60,000 species of weevils that we know about, which is about the same as the number of all vertebrate animals put together,” said de Medeiros. 

The new research considers hundreds of previously published descriptions of interactions between weevils and plants to better understand their role as pollinators.

Brood-site pollination

“In this study, we focused on brood-site pollinators-- insects that use the same plants they pollinate as breeding sites for their larvae,” explained de Medeiros. 

“It is a special kind of pollination interaction because it is usually associated with high specialization: because the insects spend their whole life cycle in the plant, they often only pollinate that plant. And because the plants have very reliable pollinators, they mostly use those pollinators.”

This type of pollination consists of relying on only one plant partner as a source of food and a site for egg-laying.

“This kind of pollination interaction is generally thought to be rare or unusual,” added de Medeiros. 

“In this study, we show that there are hundreds of weevil species and plants for which this has been documented already, and many, many more yet to be discovered.”

The study reveals that these plants and weevils need each other to flourish. 

“Oil palm, which is used to make peanut butter and Nutella, was not a viable industry until someone figured out that the weevils found with them were their pollinators,” noted de Medeiros. “And because people had an incorrect preconception that weevils were not pollinators, it took much, much longer than it could have taken.”

He explained that there were a lot of misconceptions surrounding the insects.

“We are highlighting a group of insects that most people want to see killed, and we're showing that they can actually be pretty important for maintaining ecosystems and products that we care about,” he said in the statement

“We hope that by summarizing what we know and providing some pointers on what we should be paying attention to, we can help other researchers and the public to better appreciate the role of weevils as pollinators, especially in the tropics.”