Gallivespians are tiny humanoids, no higher than the width of a man's hand, with short lifespans, usually no more than nine or ten years. Both genders have spurs on the backs of their heels which can be dug into an enemy to deliver a poison that will paralyze and cause intense pain for many days; if the dose is strong enough, the victim will die. The poison loses potency with each attack, taking a day to return to full strength, and so cannot be used frequently. Gallivespians are short-lived compared to humans, and die in their prime, without entering what a human would consider to be old age.
Typically proud and arrogant by nature, Gallivespians compensate for their small size with massive egos. They are skilled warriors and scientifically advanced, having invented and mastered the use of the lodestone resonator. They seem to possess little subtlety, but despite this and their other qualities, their small size makes them excellent spies among humans.
Gallivespians have many clans, with many noble titles, including Lord, Chevalier, Madame and Lady.
They breed large dragonfly-like insects as flying steeds; each clan cultivates a different breed, emphasizing different characteristics including color, speed and aggressiveness. Gallivespian agents carry larvae with them, which may be kept dormant or cultivated into a fully grown adult in a short time. Once grown, a dragonfly is ridden until the end of its short life.
Gallivespians are also known to ride birds, though whether this is common is unknown.
Gallivespians come from a world where "big people" (humans) and "little people" (the Gallivespians) are constantly at war. The humans in their world mostly serve The Authority and, believing the Gallivespians to be diabolic, have been trying to exterminate them for many generations.
This persecution led the majority of Gallivespians to pledge allegiance to Lord Asriel's rebellion, where they serve as spies in the Magisterium, notably among the Consistatorial Court. They seem to have no means of their own to travel between worlds, relying on portals created by others, though their advanced knowledge of physics suggests they may at least have known of other worlds before being recruited by Asriel.
- The Chevalier Tialys and Lady Salmakia - a pair of spies who aid Lyra and Will. (The Amber Spyglass)
- Lord Roke - commander of Asriel's spies; succeeded by Madame Oxentiel. (The Amber Spyglass)
The name appears to be derived from that of an insect, the gall wasp, and the word "vespa", which is Italian for wasp. This creature forms a round, shiny, often colored chrysalis on a tree in the Dead Sea region of the Middle East. Although there are other explanations of the name, this object has been called the "apple of Sodom" in literary guides. So it would seem to be with a bit of sarcasm that Pullman chose this name.
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