Ladybird beetle (coccinellidae) on a leaf.

Ladybird beetle on a leaf.

Beetle (Coleoptera) research at CSIRO

  • 13 January 2009 | Updated 3 April 2013

Beetles, also known as Coleoptera, are the largest order of living organisms, with an estimated 360 000 described species.

These are classified into four suborders, more than 170 families, and almost 500 subfamilies.

Australia’s beetle fauna includes about 23 000 described species in 3 265 genera and 121 families, but the total species number is estimated to be in the range of 80 000 to 100 000. 

Key issues

Beetles are among the most detrimental insects, damaging crops, timber and causing huge economic losses to industry.

Beetles are among the most detrimental insects, damaging crops, timber and causing huge economic losses to industry.

However, beetles are also valuable biological control agents of invasive weeds and cattle dung.

Australia has many exotic, or introduced, beetles in both these categories, but native species can also become pests or used as biocontrol agents.

Research on beetles is focused on phylogeny (evolution of species) and classification of the Coleoptera. Additional research examines their economic and environmental importance.

Since Australia has several unique, endemic beetle families and subfamilies, research is also conducted on the relationships of these groups with beetles in other parts of the world.

Current projects

ANIC's current projects include:

Revision of the genus Lepanus
This revision of the Dung Beetle genus Lepanus is near completion and will be published soon.

Systematics of Australian Fungus Beetles (Leiodidae).
This project will revise the systematics of Australian fungus beetles in the family Leiodidae, with a focus on the tribes Sogdini and Neopelatopini.

Iridescence Mechanisms in Coleoptera
This project is looking into the evolutionary origins of photonic crystals and other iridescence mechanisms in Coleoptera.

Revision of Australian Beetles Volumes 1,2 and 3
A major project to revise the Australian Beetles originally published in 1994. This edition includes major revision of many families.

Systematics of Longhorn beetles (Cerambycidae)
A revision of the subfamilies Lamiinae and Cerambycinae and develop online resources for their identification and diagnosis. These tools will include an interactive website, identification key to the Lamiinae and a book on Australian cerambycids.

Systematics of some smaller families of the Cucujoidea and Tenebrionoidea.
This project will revise the classification of some of the smaller families of these large superfamilies.

Australian Weevils monograph series
A taxonomic study revising the genera of the large and complex weevil subfamily Entiminae for Vol. IV of this book series. The Entiminae comprise about a quarter of all weevil species described in Australia, and no comprehensive treatment of them is currently available.

Interactions of seed-feeding weevils with Australian Acacias
A project to determine the specificity and distribution of the Melanterius weevils developing in the seeds of a group of Australian acacias. Molecular analysis is being undertaken to detect the evolutionary pattern among these weevils and their hosts. The study will describe new species of the genus Melanterius and delimit potential further biocontrol agents for invasive Australian acacias in South Africa.

Phylogeny of Australian weevils
Part of a postdoc project to trace the origins of the Australian beetle fauna. A molecular phylogeny of the largest sample of Australian weevil genera to date is being generated both to advance current knowledge of weevil phylogeny and classification overall and to determine the relationships of various endemic tribes of Australian weevils.

Checklist of Australian weevils
An update of the first inventory of all Australian weevils published in the ABRS-Australian Faunal Directory in 2012. The electronic checklist is being updated and a printed and annotated version of the checklist with several taxonomic and nomenclatural changes is being prepared.

Revision of the Gonipterus scutellatus species complex
A taxonomic and phylogenetic study to delimit and describe the ten or more cryptic species of what had been regarded as a single species of eucalyptus weevil in silviculture and biocontrol for over 100 years. Three different species are now known to defoliate eucalyptus plantations in Australia and elsewhere in the world, but none of them being G. scutellatus.

The weevil research is endowed by the Elwood and Hannah Zimmerman Trust.

PhD Projects

Pollination ecology of the Australian cycad Macrozamia communis
An ANU-CSIRO funded study investigating the chemical communication between a local cycad and its pollinating weevil, Tranes lyterioides. It identifies the patterns of thermogenesis and volatile emission in male and female cycad cones and measures the detection and behavioural responses of the weevils to the main volatile compounds in an attempt to cast further light on the pollination system of this cycad species, as of cycads in general.

The taxonomy and systematic revision of the Southeast Asian species of the family Rhipiceridae and the evolutionary classification of the family Dascillidae.

This is a PhD project funded by the China Scholarship Council.

Learn more about the Australian National Insect Collection (ANIC).