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Insects of South-Eastern Australia: An Ecological and Behavioural Guide

Insects of South-Eastern Australia: An Ecological and Behavioural Guide

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Insects of South-Eastern Australia: An Ecological and Behavioural Guide

783 pages
3 hours
May 1, 2016


A walk in the bush reveals insects visiting flowers, patrolling the air, burrowing under bark and even biting your skin. Every insect has characteristic feeding preferences and behaviours. Insects of South-Eastern Australia is a unique field guide that uses host plants and behavioural attributes as the starting point for identifying insects. Richly illustrated with colour photographs, the different species of insects found in Australia’s temperate south-east, including plant feeders, predators, parasites and decomposers, are presented.

The guide is complemented by an introduction to the insects of the region, including their environment, classification, life history, feeding strategies and behaviour. Fascinating boxes on camouflage, mimicry and many other topics are also included throughout. Whether you are a field naturalist, entomologist or just want to know what’s in your backyard, Insects of South-Eastern Australia will help you to identify the insects most likely to be encountered, as well as understand the basics of their ecology and behaviour.

Recipient of a 2016 Whitley Award commendation for Illustrated Guide

May 1, 2016

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Insects of South-Eastern Australia - Roger Farrow

This book is dedicated to the late Ernest Lewis, Fellow of the Royal Entomological Society, London, and friend, who introduced me to the fascinating world of beetles






© Roger Farrow 2016

All rights reserved. Except under the conditions described in the Australian Copyright Act 1968 and subsequent amendments, no part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, duplicating or otherwise, without the prior permission of the copyright owner. Contact CSIRO Publishing for all permission requests.

National Library of Australia Cataloguing-in-Publication entry

Farrow, Roger, author.

Insects of South-Eastern Australia : an ecological and behavioural guide / Roger Farrow.

9781486304745 (paperback)

9781486304752 (ePDF)

9781486304769 (epub)

Includes bibliographical references and index.

Insects – Australia, Southeastern – Identification.

Insects – Australia, Southeastern – Pictorial works.


Published by

CSIRO Publishing

Locked Bag 10

Clayton South VIC 3169


Telephone: +61 3 9545 8400



Cover photographs by Roger Farrow

Images by Roger Farrow except where otherwise credited

Edited by Peter Storer Editorial Services

Cover design by James Kelly

Typeset by Thomson Digital

Printed in China by 1010 Printing International Ltd

CSIRO Publishing publishes and distributes scientific, technical and health science books, magazines and journals from Australia to a worldwide audience and conducts these activities autonomously from the research activities of the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO). The views expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent those of, and should not be attributed to, the publisher or CSIRO. The copyright owner shall not be liable for technical or other errors or omissions contained herein. The reader/user accepts all risks and responsibility for losses, damages, costs and other consequences resulting directly or indirectly from using this information.

Original print edition:

The paper this book is printed on is in accordance with the rules of the Forest Stewardship Council®. The FSC® promotes environmentally responsible, socially beneficial and economically viable management of the world’s forests.





Part 1: An ecological and behavioural approach to insect identification

Regional environments and where to find insects, focusing on the tablelands and ranges of south-eastern NSW

Box 1: Attraction to light

Defining an insect

An ecological and behavioural approach to insect identification

Insect mouth parts: adaptations to different feeding strategies

Box 2: Nocturnal activity

Insect classification: from species to order

Box 3: Sound production

The insect life cycle

Egg stage

Immature stages

Adult stage

Annual life cycle

Box 4: Camouflage

Feeding strategies

Plant feeders

Flower visitors


Blood feeders



Non-feeding and perching insects

Box 5: defences: warning colouration, odorous and bitter chemicals and defensive behaviour or bluffing

Other attributes: behaviour and habitats

Social insects, sub-social attributes and communal behaviour

Box 6: Mimicry

Aquatic and riparian insects

Cave insects

Domestic insects

Constructions and domiciles

Box 7: Migration

Part 2: Insects in their environment

The plant feeders

Eucalypt feeders

Box 8: Aggregations and swarming behaviour

Acacia feeders

Box 9: Insect outbreaks and plagues

Other tree, shrub and rush feeders (including kurrajongs, grevilleas, heaths, bottle-brushes and mat-rushes)

Box 10: other predators, parasites and diseases

Grass and forb feeders and grassland inhabitants


Box 11: Ant attendance

Flower visitors

Box 12: Rare and endangered insect species and their conservation

The predators

Aerial predators

On plants

Predators under bark

On the ground – terrestrial predators

The blood feeders

March flies (Diptera: Tabanidae)

Keds (Diptera: Hippoboscidae)


Wasp parasitoids (Hymenoptera)

Fly parasitoids (Diptera: Tachinidae)

Box 13: Introduced insects

The decomposers

In litter

In decaying wood

In compost and soil

In carrion

In dung

Box 14: Attracting native insects to your garden

Non-feeding and perching insects

Bugs (Hemiptera)

Beetles (Coleoptera)

Flies (Diptera)

Moths (Lepidoptera)

Appendix 1 Taxonomic classification of the genera represented in this guide

Appendix 2 Locations and abbreviations


References and further reading

Index to common names

Index to scientific names

A jewel beetle, Castiarina decemmaculata (Coleoptera: Buprestidae), at Tinderry. Length 10 mm. It is feeding on nectar from a flower of a tea-tree, Leptospermum myrtifolium. There are over 480 colourful species in this endemic genus, making it one of the largest genera of beetles. Several species may coexist feeding on pollen and nectar from the same flowers at the same time, and mating between different species is sometimes observed. Some of the more spectacular species have been over collected and their survival is threatened.


Insects can be the bane of many walks in the bush, whether from the annoyance of the pesky bushfly or the persistent attentions of biting flies, while our gardens are often a source of mosquitos that drive people inside at dusk. On the other hand, such walks can reveal a whole new world of insect diversity, species richness and intriguing adaptations through camouflage, mimicry, feeding mechanisms and many other attributes. Insects may be visiting flowers, patrolling the air, feeding on plants or just hanging about, but whatever they are doing there is a story to tell. I have attempted to tell these stories in this guide, which starts with the feeding strategy and behaviour of the target insect in its natural setting, rather than the appearance of the insect itself. The guide is directed towards anyone with an interest in the rich natural history of insects in south-eastern Australia, including bushwalkers, natural historians, environmentalists, land care and conservation groups, gardeners and educators, among others, as well as entomologists. Although the fieldwork for this guide has been mainly conducted in the Southern Tablelands of NSW and adjacent ranges, most of the insects covered have a much wider range in south-eastern Australia and beyond. I hope that users of this guide will find this approach to insect identification easy to use and more eco-friendly than the traditional method of catching and preserving insects for later identification.

The diversity of insects in any particular area is also an indication of the quality and conservation value of that environment because so many ecological processes depend on insect activity, whether it is pollination of flowers, recycling of nutrients or providing food for vertebrates, such as birds and reptiles. Insects rarely receive the recognition they deserve as indicators of the conservation values of different habitats, compared with vertebrates and plants, and this guide is also an attempt to raise the profile of insects in the environment.

As the saying goes, ‘a picture is worth a thousand words’, so an emphasis is placed on the photographs of insects behaving in their natural environment with the identity of host plants given, where relevant, as well as the location (see Appendix 2 for details of locations and a list of abbreviations). This guide should enable the user to place most insects encountered in our area in a particular feeding group and family, and will usually provide a genus and common name, and possibly a species name.

– Roger Farrow, Tilembeya, June 2015

A spectacular jewel beetle Stigmodera macularia feeding at flowers of a bearded heath Leucopogon muticus. Length 25 mm. Lithgow, New South Wales. This beetle was described in 1805 in Insects of New Holland by Edward Donovan from insects collected by Joseph Banks or William Bayley on one of the three Cook Expeditions. Donovan personally engraved and hand coloured his prints.


Insects are normally identified from collected, preserved and labelled specimens and it is often much more difficult to name a species from a photograph that may not show the characters required for a formal identification. However, I would like to thank all the colleagues that looked at my photographs and helped identify many insects.

To David Rentz for grasshoppers, crickets, and cockroaches; Paul Brock for stick insects; Graham Milledge for mantids, Gunther Theischinger for dragonflies and stoneflies; Penny Gullan for scales and their allies; Murray Fletcher for leaf hoppers and their allies; Max Moulds for cicadas; Gerry Cassis for true bugs and earwigs; Tim New for lacewings; Chris Reid for leaf beetles; Dan Bickel, Neal Evenhuis, David Ferguson, Stephen Gaimari, Martin Hauser, Christine Lambkin, Bryan Lessard, Michaela Purcell, Gunther Theischinger and David Yates for different flies; Alice Wells for the caddisfly; Ted Edwards and Michael Braby for moths and butterflies; Marina Tyndale Biscoe and John Feehan for dung beetles; Ken Walker for bees; Bruce Halliday for the mite, and Mark Harvey for the scorpion and false scorpion. Particular thanks are due to Kim Pullen for beetles, flies, wasps and many others and for his expert knowledge about the local insects. Any errors of identification that remain in the book are mine.

Additional photographs have been supplied by Denis Anderson, Martin Butterfield, Nony Edwards, Ted Edwards, Esther Galant, Penny Gullan, Christine Kendrick, Diana Mortimer, Stewart Needham, Adrienne Nicholson, Stef Oberprieler, Rod Peakall, Kim Pullen, Linda Rogan, Janet Russell, Philip Spradbury, Ken Walker, Denis Wilson and Tony Wood. The photographic opportunities were greatly aided by my friends at the Native Plant Society of Canberra on our weekly forays and monthly field trips when many interesting insects were drawn to my attention.

I would like to thank Ted Edwards, Penny Gullan, Adrienne Nicholson and Kim Pullen for reviewing the manuscript at various stages and suggesting many improvements, and Briana Melideo and staff at CSIRO Publishing for their faith in my project.

Finally to my partner Christine Kendrick, thanks for putting up with me stuck on the computer assembling the photos and words for what turned out to be a protracted project.

Nectar-feeding sawfly Eurys sp. (Hymenoptera: Pergidae). Length 10 mm. Rennix Pass, Kosciuszko National Park (KNP). The rise of the flowering plants in the Cretaceous Period (starting ~140 million years ago) is closely associated with a radiation of nectar- and pollen-feeding insects on which most flowering plants depend for pollination and cross fertilisation. In addition, these plants provided a vast new resource of food for plant-feeding insects.


The number of scientifically named species of insects in Australia exceeds 86 000 but many are still undescribed and some are yet to be discovered. There are no comparable figures for south-eastern Australia, but it would be many thousands of species and so a comprehensive guide is not practical, or even possible. Furthermore, the identification of many species requires specialist knowledge and detailed examination. Most species are rare and the numbers of individuals per species or population typically follow a ‘J-shaped’ curve: that is, there are relatively few species that are common and regularly encountered in the garden or during a walk in the bush, while there are many more species that are rarely seen. This guide introduces readers to the common and more conspicuous insect species, although even some of these may not be fully identifiable in the field. The guide is biased towards the larger and more prominent species and the selection does not follow the size of the different insect groups. For example, there are relatively more images of grasshoppers, which belong to a comparatively small but conspicuous group (order Orthoptera), than there are, for example, of flies, which belong to a very large and species-rich group (order Diptera). The latter order contains numerous small species that are difficult to identify. Some groups of insects such as butterflies are more readily seen as adults flying by day, whereas their larvae are rarely observed. Conversely, moths, which are nocturnal, are more often seen as caterpillars on their food plants by day and this is reflected in the selection of images in the book. A total of 500 species are covered in this guide as adults and their immature stages.

Many species do not have common names but where possible I have used such names followed by the scientific name. Some common names are anglicised versions of the scientific name. Field guides to some groups of insects, such as dragonflies, stick-insects, cicadas and butterflies include all described species and these groups are not covered by this guide in as much detail as their prominence in the field might suggest. Selected species of other groups, such as beetles, cockroaches, grasshoppers and their allies, moths and aquatic insects, are also described in guides, using representative species at the family level. Web-based sites to identify insects from images are also available. Finally, insect species in some groups can be identified from taxonomic papers published in different scientific journals, but this usually requires detailed knowledge of insect morphology and the use of keys. Many species require detailed examination under the microscope to determine their identity and several species in this guide have only been identified to genus (see ‘Insect classification’) because specimens were not collected for specialists to examine. Even with specialist knowledge, many insects cannot be named to species, although they are known from State and National collections. A few species shown could not be named and the author welcomes any contributions to their identification.

An undescribed grasshopper photographed on a granite outcrop at Grassy Flat in southern Namadji National Park (NNP). Length 30 mm. It is represented in the Australian National Insect Collection as Genus Novum 18, sp. 1. (Orthoptera: Acrididae, Catantopinae) and has been given the common name of false apotropis.

This guide focuses on the insects encountered in south-eastern Australia, but many of the species included have a much wider range and the guide will be useful to anyone interested in the insects of Australia.

Except where acknowledged, all insect images have been taken by the author and most were photographed opportunistically over an 8-year period from 2006 to 2014, which, in terms of representing what is present in our local environment, is just a snapshot. Some earlier images were copied from the author’s colour slides, including events such as the wingless grasshopper plague of 1982. Living insects were mostly photographed in the wild under natural conditions either on their host plants or in their natural habitat, and the locality is included in the caption. Some hyperactive insects that could not be approached close enough for a photographic shot were collected and cooled and then photographed on a natural background and released. In some images the ‘clutter’ in the background reduces the visual impact of the target species, but this is how insects are seen in the wild. Unfortunately, some common insects such as the blue-banded bee, Amegilla cingulata (Anthophorinae), were too evasive to be photographed and I obtained an image from another enthusiast. Most pictures were taken under ambient light and flash was only used under low light or when the target insect was moving. Natural light is preferred because the insect cuticle is often highly reflective and flash can present an unrealistic image of the target insect. Most images were taken in the Southern Tablelands and nearby ranges of south-eastern New South Wales. A few images were taken from outside south-eastern Australia, either of species that can be found there, but could not be photographed, or to illustrate some specific points such as the first of the insect mouthparts shown on page 21. The size of the insects is given by the body length in mm, excluding appendages except where specified, or by wingspan.

Key’s matchstick grasshopper Keyacris scurra (Orthoptera: Eumastacidae) at Burra Reserve, New South Wales. Length 22 mm. A rare species occurring in native grassland and grassy woodland. It is wingless (apterous), which restricts its powers of dispersal and this in turn limits its ability to recolonise its habitats when local extinctions occur. These features also make it vulnerable to habitat fragmentation and loss. This species occurs in several colour forms, the brown one being the commonest. Photo Christine Kendrick.

The guide is in two parts. The first is a general introduction to the insect world, including their environment, structure, classification, life history, feeding strategies and behaviour. The second is a more detailed look at some of the common insects in their natural environment. Both parts include images that can assist in the identification of insects seen in the wild. If you require background information on the nature of insects or are uncertain where an insect that you wish to identify is classified in this guide, go to Part 1. If this is already known, you can go straight to Part 2. In addition there are 14 information boxes on a range of behavioural, ecological and conservation-related subjects. Insects from the same taxonomic group can be found under different sections of the guide: for example, shield bugs (Hemiptera: Pentatomidae) appear under plant-feeders, predators and introduced insects, and can be cross referenced through the index.

Botany Bay weevil, Chrysolopus spectabilis (Coleoptera: Curculionidae) at ‘Tilembeya’. Length 14 mm. This was one of the first insects collected in Australia in 1770 by Joseph Banks and described by Fabricius in 1775. The adults feed on bipinnate wattles, such as silver wattle, Acacia dealbata, whereas their larvae feed on the roots of the same trees.

Royal tigertail dragonfly, Parasynthemis regina (Odonata: Synthemistidae), at ‘Tilembeya’. Length 55 mm. An aerial predator. Dragonflies are an ancient lineage of insects. The fossil record shows that their ancestors first appeared in the Carboniferous age about 300 million years ago and often grew very large, due possibly, to the high levels of oxygen in the atmosphere. By the Triassic, 222 million years ago, the ancestors of many modern insects can be recognised.

A terrestrial darkling beetle, Lepispilus sp. (Coleoptera: Tenebrionidae), at Back Arm NR. Length 12 mm. It is clutching the stems of ballart, Exocarpus strictus about 50 cm from the ground. It has climbed here prior to taking off on a dispersal flight. A dispersal phase is an integral part of the life cycle of most insect species.



Newly hatched sawfly larvae ‘spitfires’, Perga sp. (Hymenoptera: Pergidae), at ‘Tilembeya’. Length 3 mm. They are feeding on a eucalypt leaf. Despite its high oil content and the presence of different anti-feedant compounds, including phenolics, eucalypt foliage probably supports the highest diversity of plant-feeding (phytophagous) insects of any plant group in Australia.

Wasp-mimicking longicorn beetle, Hesthesis sp. (Coleoptera: Cerambycidae) at Kambah, CNP. Length 25 mm. Mimicry is one of the most fascinating aspects of insect biology and illustrates how some insects have evolved a strategy to avoid being eaten by predators that hunt by sight. That is they come to resemble, in different ways, a well-defended or inedible model, such as a wasp, that predators avoid. This species has wasp-like yellow stripes, a wasp-like head and antennae and short wing cases exposing the narrow, membranous hind wings with a fold like a wasp.

Regional environments and where to find insects, focusing on the tablelands and ranges of south-eastern NSW

The Southern Tablelands of New South Wales (NSW) are characterised by a rolling plateau at 400–1000 m altitude, dissected by several river systems, and with a high mountain range to the west reaching 1800 m. The surrounding areas are similar in structure and are bounded by the coastal range to the east, the Blue Mountains to the north and the Kosciuszko range to the south. The climate is characterised by warm to hot summers and cold winters. Average rainfall is evenly distributed throughout the year but in the short term is highly variable from month to month. There is usually a high rainfall deficit in summer due to low humidity and high rates of evaporation. Most of the fluctuations in rainfall relate to the El Niño/Southern Oscillation (ENSO) effect, with relatively long dry periods, often lasting decades, broken by short but very wet periods of a few years. Rainfall patterns have a considerable influence on the life cycle and population fluctuations of many insects and of the plants that many of them depend upon. Rainfall is higher in the ranges to the east and west, whereas in the south there is a low rainfall, rain shadow area: the Monaro. In winter the sub-alpine areas of the tablelands and the alpine areas of the mountain ranges are covered with snow for varying periods.

The vegetation of the Tablelands is dominated by dry sclerophyll eucalypt woodland and forest, although much of the lowlands have been cleared for agriculture, mostly for grass production. Some areas of natural grassland are also present, mostly associated with frost hollows. The term sclerophyll refers to the nature of the leaves of the trees and shrubs, which are hard and tough to resist desiccation and this presents a particular challenge to insect feeders. The foliage is evergreen, which means that this food resource is available all year round.

The vegetation of NSW is classified into several different associations (Keith 2004) and some insects are restricted to the plants and habitats within these associations. Two of these associations are classified as endangered because they are now represented by only small fragments that continue to decline in size and quality due to urbanisation, infrastructure development and farming practice.

The first of these is natural temperate grassland. This habitat typically occupies frost-hollow areas on shallow soils, but its existence may have been encouraged by regular burning over the millennia by the Indigenous inhabitants. Most of these native grasslands have been converted to pastures of exotic grasses, leading to a complete loss of native plant and insect diversity. Quality ‘lowland’ remnants can be seen in the Michelago area of NSW, in some Australian Capital Territory (ACT) Nature Reserves and in some local travelling stock reserves. In the upland valleys of the Brindabellas and Snowy Mountains, there are extensive sub-alpine, frost-hollow grasslands with a different flora and insect fauna. Extensive areas of natural tussock grassland occur on the basalt plains of the treeless Monaro and other natural grasslands occur on the basalt plains of Western Victoria.

‘Lowland’ natural temperate grassland at Sweeneys Travelling Stock Reserve (TSR) near Bungendore. The grassland is dominated by kangaroo grass Themeda triandra and is bordered by snow gum woodland. This grassland supports a diverse grasshopper fauna, as well as other

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