Gallivespians were tiny humanoids, no higher than the width of a man's hand. They were short-lived compared to humans, and died in their prime (at around nine or ten), without entering what a human might have considered to be old age. Both genders had spurs on the backs of their heels, which could be dug into an enemy to deliver a poison that would paralyze and cause intense pain for many days or, if the dose was strong enough, kill the victim. However, the poison lost potency with each attack, taking a day to return to full strength, and so could not be used frequently.
Typically proud and arrogant by nature, Gallivespians compensated for their small size with massive egos. They were skilled warriors and scientifically advanced, having invented and mastered the use of the lodestone resonator. They seemed to possess little subtlety, but despite this and their other qualities, their small sizes maked them excellent spies among humans.
Gallivespians had many clans, with many noble titles, including Lord, Chevalier, Madame and Lady.
They bred large dragonfly-like insects as flying steeds and each clan cultivated a different breed, emphasizing different characteristics — including colour, speed and aggressiveness. Gallivespian agents carried larvae with them which was kept dormant to be cultivated into a fully grown adult in a short time, should one be needed. Once grown, a dragonfly was ridden until the end of its short life.
Gallivespians came from a world where "big people" (humans) and "little people" (the Gallivespians) were constantly at war. The humans in their world mostly served The Authority and, believing them to be diabolic, tried to exterminate the Gallivespians for many generations.
This persecution led the majority of Gallivespians to pledge allegiance to Lord Asriel's rebellion, where they served as spies in the Magisterium, notably among the Consistatorial Court. They seemed 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 aided Lyra and Will.
- Lord Roke - commander of Asriel's spies; succeeded by Madame Oxentiel.
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 coloured 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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