2011 Ig Nobel prize: beetles bonk stubbies

October 1, 2011 • 8:37 am

On Thursday the 2011 Ig Nobel prizes (given yearly at a ceremony at Harvard) were awarded for humorous and improbable achievements in research: you can see the list of winners here, many with links to their papers.  One of the Biology prizes went to Darryl Gwynne and David Rentz for a 1983 paper (reference below, link here ) on mistaken copulatory behavior in a beetle.  The Australian buprestid beetle, Julodimorpha bakewelli, was seen trying to copulate with “stubbies,” short Australian beer bottles.

The paper is funny, but does make a serious biological point: males are often indiscriminate in their copulations since sperm is cheap and the payoff (a conspecific mating) is large.  In my lab, for examples, male fruit flies will try to copulate with other males, dead females, or even pieces of lint.

From the paper:

On 2 occasions a flying male was observed to descend to a stubbie and attempt to copulate (Fig. 1).  A search was made for other stubbies in the area and 2 others with associated beetles were located. The males were either at the side or “mounted” on top of the bottle with genitalia everted and attempting to insert the aedeagus [the penis]. Only 1 stubbie without a beetle was located.  A short experiment was conducted in which 4 stubbies were placed on the ground in an open area. Within 30 min 2 of the bottles had attracted beetles. In total, 6 male beetles were observed to mount stubbies. . .

The stubbies were apparently acting as “supernormal releasers” (Alcock 1975) of male copulation attempts in that they resemble large females.  The shiny brown color of the glass is similar to the shiny yellow-brown elytra of J. bakewelli (a discarded wine bottle of a different color brown held no attraction.) In addition, rows of regularly, spaced, small tubercles around the base of the bottles reflect light in a similar way to punctuations on the elytra of the beetle. . . These observations bear our predictions from sexual selection theory that males of a species with low male parental investment should be indiscriminate in mating relative to females (Daly and Wilson 1978).

I love the last sentence about beetle conservation:

Lastly, a comment should be made about the fact that improperly disposed of beer bottles not only present a physical and “visual” hazard in the environment, but could also potentially cause great interference with the mating system of a beetle species.

Check out the other Ig Nobel prizes.  Here are a couple of good ones:

PHYSIOLOGY PRIZEAnna Wilkinson (of the UK),Natalie Sebanz (of THE NETHERLANDS, HUNGARY, and AUSTRIA), Isabella Mandl (of AUSTRIA) and Ludwig Huber (of AUSTRIA) for their study “No Evidence of Contagious Yawning in the Red-Footed Tortoise.”  REFERENCE: ‘No Evidence Of Contagious Yawning in the Red-Footed Tortoise Geochelone carbonaria,” Anna Wilkinson, Natalie Sebanz, Isabella Mandl, Ludwig Huber, Current Zoology, vol. 57, no. 4, 2011. pp. 477-84.

CHEMISTRY PRIZEMakoto Imai, Naoki Urushihata, Hideki Tanemura, Yukinobu Tajima, Hideaki Goto, Koichiro Mizoguchi and Junichi Murakami of JAPAN, for determining the ideal density of airborne wasabi (pungent horseradish) to awaken sleeping people in case of a fire or other emergency, and for applying this knowledge to invent the wasabi alarm. REFERENCE: US patent application 2010/0308995 A1. Filing date: Feb 5, 2009.

PEACE PRIZEArturas Zuokas, the mayor of Vilnius, LITHUANIA, for demonstrating that the problem of illegally parked luxury cars can be solved by running them over with an armored tank. REFERENCE: VIDEO and OFFICIAL CITY INFO. [JAC: be sure to watch the video!]


REFERENCE: Gwynne, D. T. and D. C. F. Rentz, 1983. “Beetles on the Bottle: Male Buprestids Mistake Stubbies for Females (Coleoptera),” Journal of the Australian Entomological Society, vol. 22, , no. 1, 1983, pp. 79-80.

12 thoughts on “2011 Ig Nobel prize: beetles bonk stubbies

    1. Actually, they’ve got the edited version up, so the interesting bits start immediately. Yesterday, it was just a raw dump of the live feed, which included 25 minutes of people milling about….



    1. Yeah, I was torn between the obviously disproportionate actions of the mayor and the fact that the car was in a bike lane!

  1. I have actually conducted yawning contagion experiments on my cats! I had no idea I could write a paper on it. I’ve so far found that human yawns are not at all contagious to cats, although cat yawns can be contagious to humans. (not as strongly contagious as human to human yawns however)

  2. I’m so proud to be Australian right now.

    Also, re yawns, I swear I can make my Labrador yawn. Though he’s a pretty relaxed d*g and he yawns frequently anyway!

  3. It should be noted that the species discussed in the Gwynne & Rentz paper is actually Julodimorpha saundersii, which at the time of their publication was considered a synonym of J. bakewellii. The former occurs throughout SW and Western Australia, while the latter is limited to eastern Australia. Refer to Bellamy & Wier (2008).

  4. With the exception of the last example, these all sound like perfectly legitimate subjects of scientific inquiry to me. 😀

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