Photo of an orchard butterfly: Papilio aegeus (Papilionidae).

An orchard butterfly: Papilio aegeus (Papilionidae).

Moth and butterfly (Lepidoptera) research at CSIRO

Researching moths and butterflies (Lepidoptera) is an important activity at the Australian National Insect Collection (ANIC).

  • 13 March 2006 | Updated 10 April 2013

Lepidoptera (moths and butterflies) is one of the five ‘mega-diverse’ insect orders which includes butterflies, probably one of the best-loved insect groups.

Lepidoptera are characterised by wings covered with minute overlapping scales, responsible for the often colourful wing patterns. These scales also provide vital insulation against heat loss, making moths the dominant night-active insect group.

Lepidopteran larvae (caterpillars) are radically different from the adult, feeding almost exclusively on live and, more rarely, on dead plant tissue.

Almost all adult Lepidoptera possess a coiled proboscis to make use of nectar sources.

Lepidopteran larvae (caterpillars) are radically different from the adult, feeding almost exclusively on live and, more rarely, on dead plant tissue.

Lepidoptera includes some of the major pests to food production


Worldwide there are close to 150 000 Lepidoptera species that have been named and grouped in 122 families. The estimated total of species is between three and five hundred thousand.

The Australian fauna is thought to total about 22 000 species of which approximately 10 500 are named. Only 400 of these are butterflies.

Australia's endemic and distinctive Lepidoptera fauna is derived from the ancient Gondwanan fauna and more recent arrivals from the Oriental region.

Australia also has a particularly large number of micromoths, which are possibly more suited to the harsh and dry climate.

CSIRO research

Our Lepidoptera research is focussed on scientifically or economically important, often 'difficult' groups which are monographed at the generic level, to provide a basis for further studies. Strong emphasis is given to information about host plants and biology.

Monographic studies of large Australian groups by overseas specialists are instigated and supported by CSIRO.

Our acclaimed book series Monographs on Australian Lepidoptera, is the major outlet for our scientific results and has now reached the tenth volume.

Current projects

Olethreutine genera of Australia (Tortricidae)
A revision of the 90 Australian genera of this economically important group, which includes many fruit borers.

The Australian genera of the Phycita group (Pyralidae: Phycitinae)
A revision of the genera (about 35) present in Australia is resulting in a taxonomic re-organisation of this economically important group.

Sun moths of Australia: a revision of the Castniidae
A species-level study of these attractive day flying moths, an ecologically interesting group tied to native grasslands and sedgelands.

Phylogeny and taxonomy of Anthelidae
Morphological and molecular research into this small family of about 90 described species endemic to Australia and New Guinea.

Australian moths online
Developing a rapidly growing website which includes more than 3 000 reliably identified images of Australian moths. Visit Australian moths online: a photo gallery.

A picture book of live Australian moths
Assembling a representative collection of close-up photographs of live moths with descriptive captions and an introduction to moth biology.

Tribal level phylogeny of Tortricidae based on three DNA sequence regions
Producing a preliminary phylogeny based on sequencing more than 4 000 base pairs of DNA, for a sample of tortricid tribes.

Diagnostics of pest Lepidoptera
Diagnosing selected Lepidoptera pests and similar looking native species by DNA and morphology, and producing an interactive key.

Find out what publications are available from CSIRO PUBLISHING: Australia’s premier science and technology publisher.