Stories from the Field: Giraffe-necked Weevils of Madagascar

You may not know this about me, but my background is actually in entomology, and one of my favorite insects in the world is Madagascar’s giraffe-necked weevil.  These are incredibly small, but are no doubt one of the most unique insects on earth…both in appearance as well as lifestyle.

the author, Court Whelan, taking a closer look at a male giraffe-necked weevil in Madagascar

Found only in the cloud forests and rain forests of Madagascar, I am always on the lookout for these guys when I’m guiding expeditions in Madagascar.  However, they aren’t always the easiest things to find – for obvious reasons.

There was one year that will stay with me for a while…

We were on a photographic expedition here, and spending considerable time in Ranomafana National Park, for it’s a wonderful place for things like lemurs, leaf-tailed geckos, and yep, you guessed it, giraffe-necked weevils.

On this particular day, we of course were delighted to find a single male weevil (also known as giraffe-necked beetles, as weevils are in the beetle order).

a macro photograph of a male madagascar giraffe-necked weevil in Ranomafana

One of the things that makes photographing these weevils so great is the habitat they live in.  All the vegetation is incredibly textured, vibrant, and very photogenic.

a long male giraffe weevil on a leaf in madagascar

And the little splashes of water droplets make the macro shots extra compelling – don’t be afraid of the rainy season, folks…water is SO photogenic with wildlife.

But then what happened next is something that I’ve only read about in textbooks.

two male giraffe-necked weevils confronting one another in Ranomafana, Madagascar

In addition to using those long necks to roll leaves, to present as nuptial gifts to female weevils, they can use them like a long lever to oust competing males from leaves in very tiny battles.

two weevils in Madagascar posturing on a small shrub

We watched these two for upwards of an hour, in the drizzling rain, as they “chased” each other all across the leaves and stems in front of us.  I have to say, they weren’t necessarily the most skilled warriors by vertebrate standards, but for an insect, they were quite tenacious and aggressive.

With all the patience we had, trudging through the soggy cloud forest, under limbs, wading through a sea of vegetation, it paid off, and I have today one of my favorite photos, not just of insects, but of all animals of all time.

a photo of two male giraffe-necked weevils perched at the tips of green leaves

Here, the defender keeps an eye on his rival, perched on the tip of his leaf waiting for the female to emerge.

I tried a lot of different things for this photo, but at the end of the day I loved the square crop and shallow depth of field.  This is a little atypical of a macro photo, but maybe that’s why it’s so intriguing to me personally.

Thanks for listening,