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Beer Goggles Affect Insects, Too

It was a case of beer, sex and mistaken identity.

A University of Toronto professor's research about the copulation patterns of male Australian jewel beetles with "stubby" beer bottles won him an Ig Nobel Prize, a parody of the prestigious award given to researchers whose findings will first make people laugh and then think.

The 2011 winners were presented the award at Harvard University on Thursday by actual Nobel Prize winners.

Darryl Gwynne of the U of T's Mississauga campus' ecology and evolutionary biology department was heralded for his 1983 paper "Beetles on the Bottle: Male Buprestids Mistake Stubbies for Females."

"I'm honoured, I think," Gwynne said in a statement.

"The awards make people think, and they're a bit of a laugh. Really, we've been sitting here by the phone for the past 20-plus years waiting for the call. Why did it take them so long?" he asks.

Gwynne and Australian colleague David Rentz were conducting field work in Western Australia 23 years ago when they noticed something unusual along the side of the road.

"We were walking along a dirt road with the usual scattering of beer cans and bottles when we saw about six bottles with beetles on top or crawling up the side. It was clear the beetles were trying to mate with the bottles," he said.

The bottles — known as "stubbies" in Australia — resembled a "super female" jewel beetle that are big and orangey brown in colour, with a slightly dimpled surface near the bottom that reflects light in much the same way as female wings do.

Ignoring the actual female beetles, the males began mounting the beer bottles and attempted to mate with them to a perilous death — they fried under the hot sun and some were eaten by hungry ants.

Despite the humorous circumstances, Gwynne said the research had a serious message.

In this case, female beetles were ignored by the males which could impact the natural world.

"Improperly disposed of beer bottles not only present a physical and 'visual' hazard in the environment, but also could potentially cause great interference with the mating system of a beetle species," the paper said.

Gwynne also points out that the research supports the theory of sexual selection: that males, in their eagerness to mate, are the ones that make mating mistakes.

Gwynne conducted his research as a post-doctoral fellow at the University of Western Australia in Nedlands. He joined U of T Mississauga in 1987.

The research was published in the journal of the Entomological Society of Australia and the U.K.-based journal, Antenna.

George Williams,
General Manager - Staff Entomologist

Pest Control, RI, Pest Control, MA 

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