Moths and Butterflies

Lepidoptera, otherwise known as moths or butterflies, is one of the most diverse insect orders and probably one of the best-loved insect groups.

The Challenge

Understanding and identitfying new Lepidoptera species

The wings of Lepidoptera are covered with minute overlapping scales, which are responsible for their often-colourful wing patterns. These scales provide insulation against heat loss, making moths the dominant night-active insect group.

The Emperor gum moth, Opodiphthera eucalypti, is native to Australia

Almost all adult Lepidoptera possess a coiled proboscis for feeding on nectar.

Lepidopteran larvae or caterpillars as they are more commonly known as, are radically different from the adult, feeding almost exclusively on live and, more rarely, on dead plant tissue.

Lepidoptera includes some very important pests for food production.

Worldwide about 150 000 Lepidoptera species have been named and grouped in 122 families. The estimated total number of species is 300 000–500 000.

The Australian fauna is thought to include about 22 000 species, of which approximately 10 500 are named and only four hundred of these are butterflies.

Our Response

Investigating the scientific and economic importance

Our research projects are focused on revising scientifically or economically important groups at the generic level, to provide a basis for more detailed further studies. We place a strong emphasis on information about host plants and biology.

Mallee moths are part of the family Oecophoridae and are closely connected to eucalypt forests and woodlands.

Our acclaimed book series Monographs on Australian Lepidoptera, is the major outlet for our scientific results. Eleven volumes have been published, and volumes 12 (Sphingidae) and 13 (Hepialidae) are in preparation.

We are also actively working on a number of projects, these include:

  • Sun moths of Australia: a revision of the Castniidae (E. D. Edwards and A. Kallies): A species-level study of these attractive day flying moths, an ecologically interesting group that occurs in native grasslands and sedge lands.
  • Phylogeny and taxonomy of Anthelidae (A. Zwick): Morphological and molecular research into this small family of about 90 described species, endemic to Australia and New Guinea, revising the genus-level classification.
  • Phylogenetic placement of Australian tortricid moths (A. Zwick and M. Horak): Molecular phylogeny of selected taxa using transcriptome data to place unusual Australian genera in the current tribal classification.
  • Revision of the geometrid genus Arrhodia (P. Macnicol and Y. N. Su): This attractive but difficult Australian genus of about eight species is being taxonomically revised and diagnosed based on DNA barcodes and morphology.
  • The Australian genera of the Phycita group (Pyralidae: Phycitinae) (M. Horak and Y. N. Su): A revision of the 35 genera present in Australia will allow a taxonomic re-organisation of this economically important group.

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