Author Archives: stw3

Of Beetles and Vampire Weekend

Mainstream culture has incorporated a wide array of topics since the modern influx of available information. Since learning bits and pieces about the vast amount of insects throughout all of life, I have seen cultural, menial, mundane examples of their diversity. One such example which piqued my interest occurred one evening while listening to music. The song Bryn by Vampire Weekend exclaims a lyric about the Kansas Palm Beetle: “Nights by the ocean/A westerly motion/That moves California to sea/Eyes like a seagull/No Kansas Palm Beetle/Could ever come close to that free”. So I got to thinking, what exactly is a Kansas Palm Beetle? Is it even real, or simply stylistic and the name was utilized for rhythmic reasons? Is the insect even used in the correct region of California?

After a bit of sleuthing, I have discovered that there is no such insect as the Kansas Palm Beetle. The closest insect I could find was the Red Palm Weevil, Rhynchophorus ferrugineus shown below.

R. ferrugineus is known to be the most damaging pest of palms in the world. Known for their ability to burrow as far as one meter into palms, this beetle threatens commercial crop growth in areas such as: Pakistan, India, Thailand, Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Italy, Greece, Aruba, and Orange Beach, California. It seems as though the members of Vampire Weekend did a bit of research on the topic of palm beetles. Or perhaps, on an even more interesting note, they can predict the future! The song Bryn made its debut in 2008. The first report of R. ferrugineus in California came in October of 2010. I honestly would not expect anything less from the Columbia University graduates. However, the natural predators of the R. ferrugneus do not include seagulls.

The threat of the spread of this beetle is concerning, as areas such as Texas and Florida have a large palm population, both commercial and public. Not many people may know, but dates are produced by a species of palm. The date industry in California alone is worth around 30 million dollars. Insecticides are the most common method of control of this beetle. So far, the spread of this species in the United States has been contained to just Orange County. For the sake of many industries, the eradication of the Red Palm Weevil in the United States is being pursued.

Adult R. ferrugineus beetles are fairly large, attaining body lengths of up to 1.6 inches. Although they may come in a variety of colors, they are known for their reddish-brown color, including a red striped coloration running the entire length of the pronotum for the species present in California.

While they may have been incorrect with the name of the beetle, Vampire Weekend was impressively accurate with their regional anticipation and depiction of the R. ferrugineus beetle. Modern culture is filled with inaccuracies regarding many topics, however Vampire Weekend has enlightened me on the “Kansas Palm Beetle” also known as the Red Palm Weevil, R. ferrugineus through the song Bryn.

Stephen Wallin