Types of Insects in Australia

There are many different types of insects in Australia.

Insects are by far the largest and most successful group of living things on Earth – they represent 90% of all animal species.

The reason for their success is their short life which means quick generation turnover and quick adaptation to new conditions. They are so successful that without spiders, it would be hard to keep their populations under control. In Australian warm climate, insects grow huge – some are larger than small birds.

Ulysses Butterfly (Papilio Ulysses) on Flowers, Kuranda State Forest, Queensland, Australia
Ulysses butterfly. By AllPosters. Click on thumbnail to buy

Habitats of the Different Types of Insects in Australia
There are more than 86,000 species of insects described in Australia. They fill every single habitat from tropical rainforests to cool mountain areas, deserts, lakes and cities, where they live as herbivores, carnivores, scavengers and parasites. Some water bugs live their whole life on the surface of the ocean, some aquatic midge larvae live in seasonally dry waterholes in temperatures up to 58°C, and some lice live in the waters where the temperatures are below -2°C.

Tailed Jay Butterfly Is Found in India, Sri Lanka, China to Australia
Butterfly. Poster by AllPosters. Click on thumbnail to buy

Different Types of Insects and Butterflies Life Cycle
Because insects haven’t got a vertebrate, they need an exoskeleton to strengthen their bodies. That exoskeleton doesn’t grow, so when insects grow out of it, they shed their whole outer skeleton and then grow a new one. Insects go through different life cycles (e. g. egg, larva, pupil and adult but there are other combinations), and only in their last stage, when they are adults, can they reproduce, and in many species, fly. When they’re adults, they stop growing, so if you see different sizes of butterflies of the same species for example, this doesn’t indicate their age but food availability during the immature stages.

Praying Mantis on Orange Heliconia Flower
Praying mantid. Poster by AllPosters. Click on thumbnail to buy

Different Types of Insects in Australia: Exopterygota
The different types of insects in Australia include the primitive, wingless silverfish and bristletails; and two large groups of winged insects: Exopterygota with species whose nymphs that are similar to the adults, and Endopterygota with species whose larvae are totally different to the adults. The first group includes dragonflies and damselflies (order Odonata), cockroaches (order Blattodea) that can grow very large, termites (order Isoptera - termites are misleadingly called “white ants” – evolutionary they’ve got nothing with ants to do and although termites do have similar social colony structure with workers, soldiers etc, ants are instead closely related to bees and wasps); the carnivorous praying mantids (order Mantodea) with heads so large you can look right into their eyes; lice (order Phthiraptera); earwigs (order Dermaptera); and crickets and grasshoppers (order Orthoptera) – the insects that make the typical sound and some of them plague large areas in inland. Walking Stick insects and leaf insects (order Phasmatodea) are the most fantastic large tree-branch or leaf-looking insects that grow up to 30cm long and make that swinging movement (like praying mantids) when disturbed to mimic a branch or leaf swinging in the wind. And then there is the large group of bugs, (order Hemiptera), with 99 families containing 5650 species including true bugs, cicadas, water bugs and bed bugs, to name a few.

Close Up of a Hopper Ant (Myrmecia Pilosula) on White Background
Ant. Poster by AllPosters. Click on thumbnail to buy

Different Types of Insects in Australia: Endopterygota
The second group of the different types of insects in Australia is Endopterygota, the larvae of which are totally different from the adults, include lacewings (order Neuroptera); stylopids (order Strepsiptera); scorpion flies (order Mecoptera); fleas; and the large orders Diptera, Coleoptera, Hymenoptera and Lepidoptera. The order Diptera includes flies: house flies, march flies, horse flies, mosquitoes, midges and sandflies to name a few. Coleoptera is a huge order with 28,200 species of Australian beetles which inhabit a wide range of habitats and include ladybirds, fireflies, weevils, jewel beetles, water beetles and more. Hymenoptera is an order containing bees, wasps and ants. They all build large nests and live in large colonies with soldiers, workers and one breeding couple. Other queens and male breeders only develop if conditions are right to disperse to new colonies.

Ants, (Formicidea), Magnetic Island, Queensland, Australia
Green ants. Poster by AllPosters. Click on thumbnail to buy

Different Types of Insects - Bulldog Ant and Robber Fly
In Australia’s warm climate, many different types of insects species have developed into real giants. Australia’s largest wasp is the 6.8cm-long Spider Wasp (Hemipepis australasiae) which is found in areas around southern Queensland and northern New South Wales. Also in eastern Australia is Australia’s largest weevil, the 6cm-long Giant Pine Weevil (Eurhamphus fasciculatus) in areas around Brisbane, and the 6cm-long Colossus Earwig (Titanobalis colossea), one of the heaviest earwigs in the world. Some more common species are Australia’s largest lacewing, the 15cm-long Antilon Lacewing (Heoclisis fulva) which is found in the northern half of Australia; Australia’s largest ant and one of the largest ants in the world - the 3.6cm-long Bulldog Ant (Myrmecia brevinoda) which lives along the eastern coast of Australia and gives you a painful bite; and Australia’s largest fly, Robber Fly (Phellus algae) with a wingspan of 8cm which is found in South Australia, southern Western Australia and central Queensland and New South Wales.

A Giant Burrowing Cockroach on White Background
Giant Cockroach. Poster by AllPosters. Click on thumbnail to buy

Giant Burrowing Cockroach and other Giant Insects in Australia
Australia’s largest cicada, the Double-drummer Cicada (Thopha saccata) has a wingspan of 13cm and is found along the eastern coast of Australia. Cockroaches are generally large in Australia, finding a 5cm-long in your kitchen is not uncommon, but the Giant Burrowing Cockroach (Macropanesthia rhinoceros) which is found along the coast of Queensland and weighs 30g is the world’s heaviest cockroach. A few giants are only found in Cape York and the tropical rainforests of far north Queensland: the Dragonfly Petalua ingentissima with a wingpan of 15cm; Australia’s largest beetle Wallace’s Longicorn (Batocera wallacei) with a length of 8.5cm and antennae-span of 40cm; and the 13cm-long Shield-backed Katyid (Siliquofera sp.), one of the world’s largest crickets. The largest stick insect is the Titan Stick Insect (Acrophylla titan) which is found all over the north-eastern half of Australia, and the heaviest one is the Goliath Stick Insect (Eurycnema goliath), found in northern and eastern parts of Australia, which can weigh up to 30g. Australia has got many species of large butterflies, but the largest is the Cairns Birdwing (Ornithoptera priamus) with a wingspan of 18cm (in females) which is found in north Queensland.

The Jeweled Grass Blue Butterfly is Australias Smallest Butterfly
Australia's smallest butterfly. By AllPosters. Click on thumbnail to buy

Facts about Butterflies and Moths in Australia
Butterflies and moths - some of the largest and most spectacular of the different types of insects in Australia are members of the order Lepidoptera, which in Australia consists of 20,816 species. Moths and butterflies are basically the same thing except that moths most often lack the cubbed antennae of butterflies, and they don’t always rest with their wings upright as do butterflies. But what do butterflies eat? Moths and butterflies both eat nectar, but butterflies are diurnal while moths (with a very few exceptions) are nocturnal. This is why butterflies are attracted to and visit plants that are colourful, while the plants that rely on moths as pollinators haven’t needed to develop colours for attraction - they are often white but smell nice instead, particularly night time.

Cairns Birdwing (Ornithoptera Priamus) Butterfly, Papua New Guinea
Male Cairns Birdwing butterfly. By AllPosters. Click on thumbnail to buy

Types of Moths in Australia
While moths generally tend to be grey, Australian moths are relatively colourful – green, orange, blue and yellowish, but there are also species that are grey or white. They belong to many families that include the beautiful ghost moths, cup moths (Family Limacodidae), burnets (Family Zygaenidae), pyralids, gum moths, tiger moths (Family Arctiidae) and hawk moths (Family Sphingidae). The largest of Australian moths is Hercules Moth (Coscinocera Hercules) with a wingspan of 270mm and 100mm-long caterpillars - is one of the largest moths in the world.

A Cairns Birdwing Butterfly Resting on a Slender Leaf
Female Cairns Birdwing butterfly. By AllPosters. Click on thumbnail to buy

Different Types of Butterflies in Australia
The 400 species of Australian butterflies belong to different families like skippers (Family Hesperiidae), swallowtails (Family Papilionidae), browns (Family Nymphalidae), whites (Family Pieridae) and blues (Family Lycaenidae), and vary in sizes from the small Common Grass Yellow Butterflies (Eurema hecabe) to the large, already-mentioned Cairns Birdwings (Ornithoptera priamus), and the most beautiful Australian butterflies - Ulysses Butterfly (Papilio Ulysses), a large bright-blue butterfly that is found in tropical north Queensland.

A Ulysses Butterfly, Native to Australia, Lands on Some Pink Flowers
Ulysses butterfly. Poster by AllPosters. Click on thumbnail to buy

Insect Facts - and Where to See Different Types of Butterflies
It is easy to see butterflies and other different types of insects everywhere in the wild, but some, like Ulysses Butterfly, are so quick when flying in the air that you hardly manage to see it, let alone taking photos. A good place to get close to Australian butterflies is Kuranda Butterfly Sanctuary in Kuranda north of Cairns in far north Queensland.

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