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By Ying Luo 18 February 2022 3 min read

Leaf miners are insects that tunnel inside leaves. They can be observed by anyone who has ever picked up a leaf. We are particularly interested in leaf-mining moths and we need your help to find them. 

Discovering leaf miners in your local area 

Leaf miners are larval insects, like caterpillars, that live inside leaves. They eat plant tissue and create a distinctive trail on leaves as a result. Different leaf mining insects include moths, flies, beetles and sawflies. 

Leaf miners are micro-herbivores. They feed on many different groups of plants, and some are even pests on familiar plants, such as the citrus leaf miner Phyllocnistis citrella

Leaf mining insects live on many different kinds of plants, including eucalypts, acacias, borages macadamias and citrus trees – just to name a few! Look for leaves that have little trails or scribbles or brown areas. If you hold them up to the light, you might be able to see the leaf miner still inside its mine. Sometimes rearing the larvae like a pet is the only way to find out exactly what species is in a leaf mine. 

These insects are seasonal. The best time to find them in Australia is during late summer, autumn and spring. 

Taking great photos of leaf miners 

You can use your phone to take photos of leaves that have mines. If possible, take three photos: 

  • the entire leaf from the top 
  • the entire leaf from the underside 
  • a backlit photo of the mine

A backlit photo can show whether the leaf miner is still inside the leaf and how big it might be. This is useful information for our research. To take a backlit photo, either hold the leaf (via the stem or branch) against the sky or use a torch to light it from behind. 

If the leaf is on your property, please mark it with a small cardboard tag or biodegradable tape so that you can find it again. We may contact you through iNaturalist or social media to request that you send the leaf to us.

If you are interested in what kind of insect might be inside the leaf, you could place a very fine mesh bag around it. Check it several times per day so that you can release the moth, beetle, fly or sawfly that emerges. Please send us a photo or a description of the adult if you can.

Enter your best leaf mine photos in our Instagram competition[Link will open in a new window]!  

A leaf miner inside a leaf with a ruler showing the leaf to be around 12.5cm long.

Sharing your sightings with us 

iNaturalist is one of the biggest online platforms for sharing observations of nature. You can use the app to upload photos from your phone.

Once you’ve created a leaf mine observation in iNaturalist, there are two ways to add it to our Australian Leaf Miners project[Link will open in a new window]

  • Upload it directly by going to the Australian Leaf Miners project page and clicking 'Add Observations'
  • Type 'Australian Leaf Miners' in the Projects field at the bottom of your observation record

When you upload your leaf miner, you’ll need to tell us about the host plant. If you don’t know, leave the Host Plant ID as 'Kingdom: Plantae'. 

If you’d like to find out, take some photos of the plant and upload them to iNaturalist as a separate observation. The app uses image recognition and might be able to tell you straight away. If not, just link the observations by editing the description of the leaf mine observation to include a link to the plant observation. 

Australia’s leaf mining moths 

I’m researching the biodiversity of leaf mining insects as part of my PhD research project at the Australian National Insect Collection, in conjunction with the Australian National University[Link will open in a new window]

I’m particularly interested in Gracillariidae, which are tiny creatures but the largest group of leaf mining moths. There are more than 2000 recognised species in the world, but we don’t know much about the Australian species. We don’t even know what their mines look like! 

By contributing your observations to this project, you’ll help us understand more about the native and exotic species of Gracillariidae and other leaf miners in Australia. Your observations could be species that are new to science, that’s how little we know! 

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