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Beer Bottles Put the "Stag" into Beetles

Research on sex between drunken beetles and beer bottles deservedly scoops an "Ig Nobel" prize.

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By Ariel Nagi

10/04/11

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The beer goggle effect goes way beyond the human practice of sitting at the bar ogling suddenly-stunning fellow-drinkers. It applies to bugs too—and the phrase carries extra relevance to certain male buprestid beetles. University of Toronto biology professor Darryl Gwynne just snagged an "Ig Nobel" prize—parodies of the more renowned Scandinavian awards—for his research on jewel beetles' habit of hitting on stubby beer bottles when intoxicated. He and his Aussie colleague David Rentz finally won recognition for their 1983 paper Beetles on the Bottle: Male Buprestids Mistake Stubbies for Females. "I'm honored, I think," Gwynne responded: "David and I have been waiting by the phone for two decades... and it finally happened." Gwynne and Rentz were conducting fieldwork in Western Australia about 23 years ago when they noticed the unnatural sex: "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." The males mounted the beer bottles determinedly, completely ignoring the nearby females. Such is their ardor that their mating attempts often end in death, as they pump away until they either fry in the heat, or get eaten by visiting ants. So here's the theory: these particular bottles, known as "stubbies," resemble a super-alluring, big and orangey-brown female jewel beetle, with an irresistible dimpled surface near the bottom—and they reflect light in a similar way to the females' wings. To any who doubt the value of these revelations to science, Gwynne insists the research has a serious message, as the shunning of the female beetles could really impact the natural world. It supports the more broadly-held theory that due to their overwhelming eagerness to copulate, many males—especially the drunken ones—are prone to making mating mistakes.

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