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By Andrea Wild 22 February 2021 2 min read

Key points

  • The Australian National Insect Collection (ANIC) has more than 12 million insect specimens.
  • About 80 per cent of Australian species are endemic, occurring nowhere else on Earth.
  • ANIC is the largest collection of Australian insects on the planet.

Australia's insect biodiversity

Stored inside more than 22,000 drawers in our collection is the story of Australia’s insect biodiversity.

Australia is one of the world’s biodiversity hotspots. Our continent is home to more than half a million plants and animals. About 80 per cent of Australian species are endemic, occurring nowhere else on Earth.

Many of our species are still unknown to science. Australia has about 300,000 to 400,000 species of insects and only a quarter have scientific names.

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Biodiversity is our most valuable resource

From sparkling beetles to beautiful butterflies, biodiversity can be a source of wonder and inspiration. Biodiversity provides irreplaceable ecosystem services, from clean water to fresh air to pollination. We can't survive without biodiversity.

And the uniqueness of Australia’s biodiversity makes it a rich potential source for biodiscovery. Insects are a source of new molecules, medicines and materials for future industries. Many are waiting to be discovered.

What’s in our insect collection?

  • More than 12 million specimens, the largest collection of Australian insects on the planet
  • A weevil collected by Charles Darwin in 1836
  • Pinned insects and specimens on microscope slides that are preserved in ethanol
  • Equipment to digitise our specimen collection
  • Labs where we work with DNA from insect specimens

How are we using our collection?

We are using our collection to discover and map Australia’s insect biodiversity. Each year we describe around 200 new insect species.

We are digitising our collection and making our data available on the Atlas of Living Australia. It’s free to use from anywhere in the world.

We are discovering the biodiversity of spider wasps in Australia. Their venoms are complex cocktails of potential new therapies for Alzheimer’s, epilepsy, bacterial infections and more.

We are developing fast new ways to get genomic information out collection specimens. This enhances our physical specimens by adding analysed DNA sequence data.

We’re using honey bees to survey flowering plants, which can help us to monitor environmental change. This new technology is known as pollen DNA metabarcoding. It is a high-throughput genomic method enabled by reference specimens of expertly identified plants held in collections like ours.

We’re making AI–based identification tools by training computers to recognise pest insects like the Brown Marmorated Stink Bug.

We’re going on field trips to survey insects and find out how they recover after bushfires.

Join the virtual tour to visit our collection halls, meet some of our people, and find out more about what we do!

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