Up Close and Personal With the Evil Weevil
One Man's Encounters with Metamasius callizona

By Olan Ray Creel

click on thumbnails to display photos
Metamasius callizona - Evil Weevil
Metamasius callizona
"Evil Weevil"
Evil Weevil damage
Adult Metamasius callizona
on T. utriculata showing
damage from larval 'mining'
T. utriculata dismembered by weevil
T. utriculata dismembered
by 'Evil Weevil
T. utriculata infected by weevil
T. utriculata bloomspike
infected and destroyed
by 'Evil Weevil

The following text, accompanying the photos, is meant not only to describe the photos in a general sense, but to present an informal chronological story of the personal experience I have had with Metamasius callizona, the "evil-weevil". My hope is that not only Bromeliad lovers but also native plant enthusiasts and people with an interest in our natural environment will see more clearly the tragedy that is unfolding. Not only for Floridians, but also for an increasingly environmentally aware international community, a large and growing number of people who make up a significant part of Florida's ecotourism industry. My fear in this regard is that the credibility of this "industry" could be jeopardized if an entire group of "signature" plants is allowed to become regionally extinct in Florida's natural habitats.

We are all aware that exotic pests threatening our States economic health are given whatever government funding is necessary to guarantee the continued vitality of the affected industry. A great majority of Floridians support this logical policy.

Government officials have long been aware of the overwhelming public mandate to protect our environmental treasures. The huge sums being spent on Everglades restoration are one proof of that. We should now further help educate those officials, elected or appointed, to the tragedy at hand so that the proper financial resources can be made available to assure a successful outcome to this gravely serious invasion.

We're not talking vast sums of money here. Only enough to supply Dr. Howard Frank at the University of Florida with the logistical and manpower support he needs to carry his research to the final levels at the greatest possible speed. The benefits of establishing one or more support facilities in other parts of the state could be an area of discussion.

One important step, being undertaken by the FCBS, is the program to encourage the growing of replacement seedlings from native Bromeliad species. I'd like to see another layer added to this program that would somehow take into consideration the vast genetic variation within individual Tillandsia species, even within very localized populations. Obviously, many more ideas and variables exist. The known variable at this stage is the need for adequate funding.

Let's all support the FCBS in their dedication to addressing this issue.

Thank You,
Olan Ray Creel
September 2000

Weevils
Metamasius callizona
Mexican 'Evil Weevil'
Metamasius mosieri
native weevil
Metamasius mosieri
Metamasius mosieri
native weevil
T. paucifolia chewed by weevil
T. paucifolia chewed
by adult 'Evil Weevil'
Metamasius callizona
T. balbisiana with weevil cocoons
T. balbisiana
with 2 M. callizona
cocoons

Photos labeled with the prefix HF (Hidden Forest) are from an urban cypress strand that surrounds a condo complex in east central Broward County, Florida. The site is less than 10 acres in size. Before the arrival of the "evil-weevil" in 1990, T. fasciculata and T. utriculata were the dominant species. Besides Spanish moss and ball moss, there were at least 4 other Tillandsia species present. T. balbisiana, T. flexuosa, T. paucifolia, and T. x smalliana (2 very distinct forms). In 1990, all T. utriculata (several thousand) were killed by the weevil - preceded some months earlier by the entire smaller populations of T. flexuosa and T. paucifolia. Hidden Forest
Hidden Forest
circa 1995

The only species remaining now are several hundred (formerly, several thousand) T. fasciculata and a few dozen T. balbisiana. The remaining T. fasciculata are steadily declining in numbers due to the evil-weevil with basically no replacement seedlings around to take their place. In the early 90's, seedlings of all of these species existed in massive numbers. I surmise that the seedlings and smaller plants have been eaten or dismembered by adult weevils. This scenario holds true for T. balbisiana also, but on a smaller scale. As a point of interest, it should be noted that evil-weevil adults will feed on any size seedling of any native Tillandsia and in captivity will feed happily on ball moss and Spanish moss. T. fasciculata weevil damage
Weevil damage to
T. fasciculata
Hidden Forest

I believe the value of the photos of T. fasciculata lies in how they illustrate the potential genetic variation within this one Tillandsia species. Although T. fasciculata is known for its many "forms" throughout its large range, these photos illustrate how that diversity can be a very localized phenomenon. Although this degree of variation for such a small area may not be the norm, it vividly shows what has and certainly will continue to be lost to the weevil. Incidentally, these plants were all legally collected (salvaged) over a 5 to 7 year period. Several hundred plants - mostly seedlings, salvaged over that period, still annually produce about 1 or 2 "new" forms per year in my collection of plants from that location. The photos represent most but certainly not all of the differences in the various "Hidden Forest" forms. Many are readily recognizable variations that are found in other areas and others are indeed unusual or possibly unique as in the variegated specimen. I tried to be consistent in photographing these plants in similar flowering stages and similar light levels during inflorescence development. T. fasciculata Monk Parakeet damage
Monk Parakeet
damage to
T. fasciculata
Hidden Forest

HF AL1
Tillandsia fasciculata alba form
T. fasciculata
alba form
HF AL2
Tillandsia fasciculata alba form
T. fasciculata
alba form
HF AL4
Tillandsia fasciculata alba form
T. fasciculata
alba form
HF AL5
Tillandsia fasciculata alba form
T. fasciculata
alba form
HF AL8
Tillandsia fasciculata alba form
T. fasciculata
alba form
HF AL0
Tillandsia fasciculata alba form
T. fasciculata
alba form


HF1
Tillandsia fasciculata
T. fasciculata
HF2
Tillandsia fasciculata
T. fasciculata
HF3
Tillandsia fasciculata
T. fasciculata
HF4
Tillandsia fasciculata
T. fasciculata
HF5
Tillandsia fasciculata
T. fasciculata

HF5 through HF9 are similar, HF5 has heavy white 'scales' on leaves and is a larger plant. Differences are more clear to the naked eye.
HF6 through HF9 are 'compact' small plants with very stiff leaves and long-lasting inflorescenses.

HF6
Tillandsia fasciculata
T. fasciculata
HF7
Tillandsia fasciculata
T. fasciculata
HF8
Tillandsia fasciculata
T. fasciculata
HF9
Tillandsia fasciculata
T. fasciculata
HF10
Tillandsia fasciculata
T. fasciculata
HF11
Tillandsia fasciculata
T. fasciculata
v. clavispica

HF11
Tillandsia fasciculata
T. fasciculata
v. clavispica
HF11
Tillandsia fasciculata
T. fasciculata
v. clavispica
HF12
Tillandsia fasciculata
T. fasciculata
HF13
Tillandsia fasciculata
T. fasciculata
HF14
Tillandsia fasciculata
T. fasciculata
HF15
Tillandsia fasciculata
T. fasciculata
v. clavispica?

HF16
Tillandsia fasciculata
T. fasciculata
v. clavispica?
HF17
Tillandsia fasciculata
T. fasciculata
v. clavispica?
HF18
Tillandsia fasciculata
T. fasciculata
v. clavispica?
large inflorescence
pink
HF19
Tillandsia fasciculata
T. fasciculata
dark leaved
HF20
Tillandsia fasciculata
T. fasciculata
v. clavispica?
HF21
Tillandsia fasciculata
T. fasciculata
v. densispica?

HF22
Tillandsia fasciculata
T. fasciculata
v. clavispica?
HF23
Tillandsia fasciculata
T. fasciculata
HF24
Tillandsia fasciculata
T. fasciculata
HF25
Tillandsia fasciculata
T. fasciculata
HF26
Tillandsia fasciculata
T. fasciculata
HF27
Tillandsia fasciculata
T. fasciculata

HF28
Tillandsia fasciculata
T. fasciculata
HF29
Tillandsia fasciculata
T. fasciculata
HF30
Tillandsia fasciculata
T. fasciculata
HF31
Tillandsia fasciculata
T. fasciculata
very large flowers
HF31
Tillandsia fasciculata
T. fasciculata
very large flowers

HF32
Tillandsia fasciculata
T. fasciculata
one of several
dwarf types
not all stable
HF33
Tillandsia fasciculata
T. fasciculata
HF34
Tillandsia fasciculata
T. fasciculata
HF35
Tillandsia fasciculata
T. fasciculata
common type
red edging
yellow bracts
HF36
Tillandsia fasciculata
T. fasciculata
HF37
Tillandsia fasciculata
T. fasciculata

HF38
Tillandsia fasciculata
T. fasciculata
bracts held tightly
together and upright
very dark green
HF39
Tillandsia fasciculata
T. fasciculata
HF40
Tillandsia fasciculata
T. fasciculata
stiff, very large
HF41
Tillandsia fasciculata
T. fasciculata
unstable, dwarf type
HF42
Tillandsia fasciculata
T. fasciculata
orange type
blooms mid-summer

HF43
Tillandsia fasciculata
T. fasciculata
HF44
Tillandsia fasciculata
T. fasciculata
dwarf type
bracts will turn
red-orange
HF45
Tillandsia fasciculata
T. fasciculata
variegated
found in 1996
when it was about
coffee cup size
HF45
Tillandsia fasciculata
T. fasciculata
variegated

Also note a few examples (out of a dozen or so) of the different inflorescence color variations of T. balbisiana from this site and other areas. There are some forms of T. balbisiana from Hidden Forest that I consider of great size for that species. One has a length of over 3 feet from inflorescence tip to plant base and leaves up to 2 feet long from leaf tip to leaf base. Plenty of room and fiber for the weevil to set up reproductive activity-which it does in this species-even much smaller specimens.

Tillandsia balbisiana
T. balbisiana
various color forms
HF
Tillandsia balbisiana
T. balbisiana
HF
Tillandsia balbisiana
T. balbisiana
SLC
Tillandsia balbisiana
T. balbisiana
SAV
Tillandsia balbisiana
T. balbisiana
SAV
Tillandsia balbisiana
T. balbisiana

HF
Tillandsia balbisiana
T. balbisiana
HF
Tillandsia x smalliana-balbisiana
T. x smalliana
T. balbisiana
HF
Tillandsia x smalliana
T. x smalliana
HF
Tillandsia x smalliana
T. x smalliana
close-up of
previous photo
HF
Tillandsia x smalliana
T. x smalliana
HF
Tillandsia x smalliana
T. x smalliana

After 10 years of "entrenchment" by the weevil in this urban ecosystem, we can get a disturbing preview of future events. I don't believe the weevil will simply pass through "airplant" rich ecosystems and then disappear for lack of victims with replacement by unaffected seedlings. The "situation" for native Tillandsias and soon, other Bromeliad genera of the Fakahatchee and Big Cypress, is likely even worse than we currently imagine. In fact, when I get the opportunity, I plan to experiment to see if the weevil will actually reproduce in ball-moss (T. recurvata). Likely not, but I've seen the weevil reproduce in some very small individual native and exotic Tillandsias.

Photos with the prefix WC, are from an area in White City, St. Lucie County. In one public park, where I can't collect the plants legally, there is a rather large and unusual assortment of differing "alba" forms of T. fasciculata. The ones I was able to photograph, using a black sheet as background, are included. I don't know if these forms are unique but the "partial pendant" form with at least 3 different colored flowers on the same inflorescence (at the same time) is interesting indeed. The weevil infects this area and the plants pictured will eventually be killed.

WC AL1
Tillandsia fasciculata alba form
T. fasciculata
alba form
WC AL2
Tillandsia fasciculata alba form
T. fasciculata
alba form
WC AL3
Tillandsia fasciculata alba form
T. fasciculata
alba form
partial pendant form
WC AL3
Tillandsia fasciculata alba form
T. fasciculata
alba form
partial pendant form
close-up
WC AL3
Tillandsia fasciculata alba form
T. fasciculata
alba form
partial pendant form
showing 3 different
colored flowers


Photos labeled SAV are from the Savannas State Reserve, St. Lucie County. Massive populations of T. utriculata are being decimated from this unique scrub ecosystem very quickly. It's also the location of what I labeled "terrestrial airplant gardens" whose destruction I wrote about in more detail in the winter issue of "Palmetto" (for The Florida Native Plant Society). I've included some of the photos used in that issue. T. fasciculata is uncommon in the reserve and many are infected. They are normally found as individual plants growing terrestrially or as rather large colonies, each colony with its own inflorescence color form, hidden away in dense scrub vegetation. I was able to salvage (under State permit) some of the infected dying plants, which subsequently flowered after chemical "treatment". Note the variation even among a rather limited population of this species.

T. flexuosa and T. paucifolia were rendered, in my opinion, locally extinct at this 5,000+ acre reserve early in the weevil's initial attack in late 1998-early 1999.

I have also found infected T. balbisiana at this site. This species also can be found growing terrestrially, sometimes in rather large colonies, and individual colonies often have their own distinct inflorescence color form.

SAV
Savannas State Reserve
SAV
Savannas State Reserve
SAV
Savannas State Reserve
SAV
Savannas State Reserve
T. utriculata growing terrestrially in 200 sq. ft. study plot in Savannas State Reserve.
In only six months the 'Evil Weevil' destroyed most of these plants.


SAV
Tillandsia flexuosa seed pods
Tillandsia flexuosa
seed pods
SAV
Weevil damage to T. utriculata
Weevil damage to
T. utriculata
SAV
T. utriculata killed be weevil
T. utriculata
killed by weevil
SAV
T. utriculata killed be weevil
Small T. utriculata
killed by weevil
SAV
T. fasciculata killed be weevil
T. fasciculata
killed by weevil

SAV
T. utriculata bloomspike destroyed by weevil
T. utriculata
bloomspike infected &
destroyed by weevil
SAV
T. balbisiana
T. balbisiana
SAV
T. utriculata infected by weevil
T. utriculata
infected by weevil
SAV
Remains of T. utriculata
Remains of
T. utriculata
SAV
T. utriculata dismembered by weevil
T. utriculata
dismembered by weevil

SAV
T. utriculata destroyed by weevil
T. utriculata
emerging bloomspike
destroyed by weevil
SAV
T. utriculata pup production after weevil damage
T. utriculata
pup production
after weevil damage
SAV
T. fasciculata infected by weevil
T. fasciculata
infected by weevil
SAV
T. utriculata - blitzkrieg stage of attack
T. utriculata
'blitzkrieg' stage of attack

SAV1
Tillandsia fasciculata
T. fasciculata
SAV2
Tillandsia fasciculata
T. fasciculata
SAV3
Tillandsia fasciculata
T. fasciculata
SAV4
Tillandsia fasciculata
T. fasciculata

Photos labeled SLR, (St. Lucie River) show some of the effects of the weevil on a formerly (and recently) very large population of T. fasciculata. This species was once the dominant Tillandsia in that ecosystem and exceptionally common. In just over 2 years since I detected the weevil there, I estimate that 80 - 90% of T. fasciculata have been destroyed or infected. Because of this rapid decline, I've been unable to effectively seek out different "forms" of T. fasciculata from this area. Evil-Weevils infect the entire north to south length of this river system - a distance of at least 15 miles in St. Lucie County and the city of Port St. Lucie. The same is true of the nearby Savannas State Reserve.

During a visit by Dr. Howard Frank in July 2000, we investigated a report from a friend of mine, Jeanne Hearn, in northern St. Lucie County near the coastal boundary with Indian River County. We found extensive destruction to mature T. utriculata by M. callizona along US1 in that coastal scrub ecosystem. The residents of Vero Beach, so proud of their massive T. utriculata covered oaks, need to prepare themselves, (psychologically?) for the advancing army that will eventually remove that visual treasure from their surroundings. T. utriculata in Vero Beach
T. utriculata in Vero Beach

SLR
T.fasciculata dying from weevil damage
T. fasciculata
dying from
weevil damage
SLR
T.fasciculata dying from weevil damage
T. fasciculata
on Sabal Palms
dying from
weevil damage
SLR
Pre weevil abundance of T. fasciculata
Pre weevil abundance of
T. fasciculata
SLR
T. fasciculata being killed by weevil
T. fasciculata
being killed by weevil
SLR
T. fasciculata being killed by weevil
T. fasciculata
being killed by weevil


Photos of the rare native weevil Metamasius mosieri, are individually labeled. I found this weevil infecting and killing several species of native Tillandsia in St. Lucie County, T. balbisiana, T. setacea, T. simulata, T. x smalliana, and seedlings and immature plants of T. utriculata and T. fasciculata. Although I consider T. paucifolia and T. flexuosa to be locally extinct due to the evil-weevil, Dr. Frank and myself discovered a dying specimen of T. paucifolia in July of 2000 that "appears" to be infected with a mosieri larva.

M. mosieri had never before been found in Florida outside of its previous range near the Ft. Myers area and it had never been observed killing native Tillandsias in the wild in Florida. This discovery in St. Lucie County opened up a whole new set of questions and mysteries concerning this native weevil. These specimens were found among varying habitats bordering the St. Lucie River.In some areas they are rather common and exert a noticeable impact on, especially, the seedlings of larger Tillandsias. Only one adult specimen was found in the nearby Savannas Reserve - infecting T. balbisiana.

Metamasius mosieri
Metamasius mosieri
native weevil
Metamasius mosieri
Metamasius mosieri
native weevil
Metamasius mosieri
Metamasius mosieri
native weevil
Metamasius mosieri larvae
Metamasius mosieri
larvae
Metamasius mosieri cocoon
Metamasius mosieri
cocoon


Metamasius mosieri pupa
Metamasius mosieri
pupa
Metamasius mosieri infecting seedling
Metamasius mosieri
infecting seedling
Metamasius mosieri infecting small Tillandsias
Metamasius mosieri
infecting small Tillandsias
Metamasius mosieri infected T. balbisiana
Metamasius mosieri
infected T. balbisiana

Metamasius mosieri cocoon
Metamasius mosieri
cocoon
Metamasius mosieri in T. utriculata
Metamasius mosieri
in T. utriculata
Metamasius mosieri in T. utriculata
Metamasius mosieri
cocoon
in T. utriculata
Unidentified Metamasius mosieri species
Unidentified M. mosieri
species
found July 2000
Unidentified Metamasius mosieri species
Side view of
unidentified M. mosieri
species

Unidentified Metamasius mosieri species
T. bartramii/simulata
infected by new
possible dark form
of M. mosieri
species
Unidentified Metamasius mosieri species
T. bartramii?/simulata?
host plant for new
possible dark form
of M. mosieri
species
Plants from area infected by new weevil
Plants from area
infected by new weevil
possibly T. simulata
Recently, (late July 2000), I found larvae of a Metamasius species infecting and killing significant numbers of what appear to be T. simulata and also some T. balbisiana at two sites about ten miles apart in north central Osceola County, Fla. (about 20 miles SE of Disney World.) I have eight larvae and when one of those emerged as an adult on August 19, it prompted me to hurry off an e-mail to Dr. Frank with the title "WOW!" The adult was not a species of Metamasius familiar to either of us. It was the size of, and had exhibited some of the same cocoon building techniques I've noticed with the native M. mosieri but this adult had a very different color form, being mostly black on its dorsal side. As I wait for more adults to mature we can only guess at what this one specimen represents. I personally think that it's a "regional" form of M. mosieri. It's the most northerly finding of a Metamasius species in Florida and smack in the middle of some of the most vast and Tillandsia rich habitats in our state. It illustrates on a smaller scale what will happen when M. callizona, the "Evil-Weevil", eventually enters this same region-as it surely will. As it will also the world-famous Fakahatchee and the Big Cypress (and of course, Everglades National Park). The longer it delays however - if it hasn't arrived already - the more time we have to prepare for it.

I've observed this alien weevil decimate entire reserves and ecosystems of their dominant Bromeliads in very short time periods. It then "entrenches" itself - at least for a proven decade now. It spreads rapidly-almost beyond what common logic might allow. I have found it in many tiny isolated "remnant" forests and even undeveloped residential lots - miles from the nearest main infestation. This is a true statewide ecological disaster - in progress now for over 10 years.

The citrus industry, somewhat confusingly, has its own recently well publicized "evil-weevil". Its larvae feed on the tree roots - affecting productivity and eventually killing the tree. For a pest with such profound economic implications, no amount of public funds will be denied in searching for a cure or control. Floridians consider this a valid expenditure of public funds to protect our state economy.

Beyond science, beyond ecology, beyond extinction and the intangibles of scenic wonder, lie those realms of politics and economy. The leaders, elected or appointed, of our State and Federal governments must now realize that economically speaking, Florida's skyrocketing industry of ecotourism could be undermined and discredited on an international scale - if those now more ecologically aware tourists ask why Florida's precious native "airplants" were allowed to disappear. What will we tell them?

Olan Ray Creel
August, 2000


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