Abstract 1 The pine weevil Hylobius abietis (L.) (Coleoptera, Curculionidae) is an economically important pest of conifer forest regeneration in Europe and Asia. 2 Soil scarification, which usually exposes mineral soil, is widely used to protect seedlings from weevil attack. However, the mechanism behind this protective effect is not yet fully understood. 3 Field experiments were conducted to determine the pine weevil's responses to visual and odour stimuli from seedlings when moving on mineral soil and on undisturbed humus surface. 4 One experiment measured the number of pine weevils approaching seedlings, with and without added host odour, on mineral soil and undisturbed humus. Seedlings with added host odour attracted more weevils on both soil types. Unexpectedly, somewhat more weevils approached seedlings surrounded by mineral soil. 5 In a similar experiment, feeding attacks on seedlings planted directly in the soil were recorded. Only half as many seedlings were attacked on mineral soil as on undisturbed humus. 6 In the first experiment, the weevils were trapped 2.5 cm from the bases of the seedlings' stems, whereas they could reach the seedlings in the experiment where seedlings were planted directly in the soil. We conclude that the pine weevils' decision on whether or not to feed on a seedling is strongly influenced by the surrounding soil type and that this decision is taken in the close vicinity of the seedling. The presence of pure mineral soil around the seedling strongly reduces the likelihood that an approaching pine weevil will feed on it.