Australian Biological Resources Study

Australian Faunal Directory


Regional Maps


Compiler and date details

2008 - ABRS, with input from C.H.S. Watts, South Australian Museum

2002 - Updated by Andrew A. Calder, CSIRO Entomology, Canberra, Australia

1987 - J.F. Lawrence, T.A. Weir & J.E. Pyke


The Dytiscidae is a moderately large and cosmopolitan family containing about 195 genera and subgenera and 3,792 species worldwide (Nilsson 2001), with 43 genera and 215 species comprising the Australian fauna. The oldest fossil assigned to the group belongs to the genus Creodytes Ponomarenko from the Upper Cretaceous of southern Kazakhstan, U.S.S.R., but the related family Coptoclavidae was fairly common in the Middle and Upper Jurassic (Arnoldi et al. 1977). This is the most advanced group of aquatic Adephaga and is most closely related to the family Noteridae. Additional information can be found at Sharon Jasper's Water Beetle World (Jasper, 2008), a useful source for water beetle information.

Dytiscids inhabit a wide variety of both lotic and lentic freshwater habitats, but are most abundant in the littoral zone at the edges of ponds and lakes. They may also occur in water-filled ditches, dams, billabongs, potholes in rock outcrops, water-filled land crab burrows, irrigation canals, pools in intermittent streams, edges of mountain streams, artesian wells and springs, rock surfaces over which a water film is flowing (hygropetric habitats), saline inland lakes (Spangler 1991; Watts 1978) and even in subterranean, shallow, near-surface, calcrete aquifers of the Western Desert areas of Western Australia (Watts & Humphreys 1999, 2000, 2001). Both adults and larvae are good swimmers and are predators on a variety of other aquatic animals such as insect larvae and adults, crustaceans, worms, leeches, snails, tadpoles and even small fish. The ecology and habitat preferences of several north Queensland species and hydradephagan communities has been investigated by Larson (1993, 1997).

Adults are strong fliers and are commonly attracted to lights at night. They swim rapidly by means of enlarged, fringed hind legs which are moved synchronously. They may remain underwater for considerable periods and replenish their air supply by rising to the surface, raising the tip of the abdomen out of the water and allowing air to enter the subelytral cavity. Some species have short ovipositors and glue eggs to plant stems, rocks or twigs beneath the water or place them in mud or sand. In some species the ovipositor is longer and eggs are deposited in crevices, while in others it is heavily sclerotized and capable of piercing plant tissue.

Dytiscid larvae have a relatively streamlined form, with well-developed, fringed swimming legs, large perforate mandibles for extra-oral digestion of prey and enlarged eighth spiracles placed at the abdominal apex, which may be prolonged and siphon-like. Most dytiscid larvae obtain air from the surface. They do this by breaking the surface film with the abdominal apex and exposing the spiracles to the atmosphere. Some first instars and various Hydroporinae, however, may be capable of cutaneous respiration, while larvae of the North American genus Coptotomus Say have lateral abdominal gills. Final (third) instars have a full complement of functional spiracles (nine pairs) and are capable of crawling onto the land, where they pupate in earthen cells in mud or sand, among matted roots, or under rocks, leaves and twigs.

General works on biology and immature stages, containing descriptions and illustrations of larvae and pupae, include Bertrand (1972, 1977), Galewski (1971), Leech & Chandler (1956) and Spangler (1991). Watts (1963, 1964) has described larvae of many Australian Dytiscidae, including species of Hyphydrus, Allodessus, Liodessus, Paroster, Chostonectes, Antiporus, Sternopriscus, Necterosoma, Megaporus, Platynectes, Rhantus, Lancetes, Copelatus, Hyderodes, Homoeodytes and Cybister.

The major world revision of the family was that of Sharp (1882), but the Australian species have been revised by Watts (1978) with recent additions by Biström (1997), Brancucci & Monteith (1997), Hendrich (1997, 1999, 2001), Larson (1994), Larson & Storey (1994), Pederzani (1999), Watts (1997a, 1997b, 2000), Watts & Humphreys (1999, 2000, 2001), Watts & Pinder (2000), Wewalka (1994). Biström (1988) gives a generic review of the Bidessini on a world-wide basis. Matthews (1980) gives an illustrated key to the genera of South Australian dytiscids. Watts (2002) provides an illustrated generic key to the adults and larvae of Australian Dytiscidae. Previous world catalogues have been those of Zimmermann (1920) and more recently, Nilsson (2001). The classification and generic arrangement used here is that of Nilsson (2001). Nilsson & Hájek (2020) present a current world catalogue of the family Dytiscidae, based on Nilsson (2001), which is updated regularly. Hendrich et al. (2019) provide a current synopsis of the family in Australia with a detailed list of references.

The Australian fauna contains a number of endemic genera, with some others being shared only with New Guinea. These include the laccophiline Australphilus; the genus Carabhydrus; the bidessine genera Limbodessus, Allodessus, Gibbidessus and Terradessus; all of the Hydroporini except Antiporus (shared with New Zealand), Necterosoma (shared with New Caledonia), and Megaporus (shared with Fiji); the colymbetine genera Allomatus and Batrachomatus; the dytiscine genus Hyderodes and the cybistrine genera Spencerhydrus and Austrodytes. New Zealand shares the genera Antiporus and Homeodytes with Australia, while only Lancetes exhibits a typical south temperate distribution (Australia, New Zealand, southern South America). Widespread or cosmopolitan genera occurring in Australia include Laccophilus, Hydrovatus, Hyphydrus, Clypeodytes, Liodessus, Rhantus, Copelatus, Eretes, Hydaticus, Rhantaticus and Cybister.

More recent works include those of Hendrich & Watts (2004) and Watts & Humphreys (2004), the latter including a key to stygobitic Dytiscidae.

Further work conducted by Langille et al. (2022) to investigate regressive evolution of vision has involved subterranean species of the genera Limbodessus and Paroster, in which parallel vision and eye loss has occurred. Their findings strongly support neutral evolutionary processes as a major contributor to the loss of phototransduction genes in subterranean taxa, which ultimately results in the irreversible loss of a light detection system.


Excluded Taxa


Dytiscidae: Liodessus Guignot, 1939 — Balke, M. & Ribera, I. 2004. Jumping across Wallace's line: Allodessus and Limbodessus revisited (Coleoptera: Dytiscidae, Bidessini) based on molecular phylogenetic and morphological data. Australian Journal of Entomology 43: 114-128 (all Australian species previously in this genus are now referrred to Limbodessus Guignot, 1939)


General References

Arnoldi, L.V., Zherikhin, V.V., Nikritkin, L.M. & Ponomarenko, A.G. 1977. Mesozoic beetles. Trudy Paleontologicheskogo Instituta. Akademiya Nauk SSSR 161: 1-204

Bertrand, H. 1972. Larves et Nymphes des Coléoptères Aquatiques du Globe. Paris : Paillart 804 pp. [Date published 12/31/1972]

Bertrand, H. 1977. Larves et Nymphes des Coléoptères Aquatiques du Globe. Errata et Addenda. Abbeville : Paillart 19 pp. [Date published 12/31/1977]

Biström, O. 1988. Generic review of the Bidessini (Coleoptera, Dytiscidae). Acta Entomologica Fennica 184: 1-41

Biström, O. 1997. Taxonomic revision of the genus Hydrovatus Motschulsky (Coleoptera, Dytiscidae). Entomologica Basiliensia 19: 57-584

Brancucci, M. & Monteith, G.B. 1997. A second Terradessus species from Australia (Coleoptera, Dytiscidae). Entomologica Basiliensia 19: 585-591

Galewski, K. 1971. A study on morphobiotic adaptations of European species of the Dytiscidae. Polskie Pismo Entomologiczne 41: 479-702

Hendrich, L. 1997. A new species of Cybister Curtis from the Kakadu National Park in northern Australia (Coleoptera: Dytiscidae). Entomological Problems 28(2): 105-108 [Date published Dec/1997]

Hendrich, L. 1999. A new species of Hydroglyphus Motschulsky 1853 from northern Australia (Coleoptera: Dytiscidae). Linzer Biologische Beiträge 31(1): 63-69 [Date published 30/Jul/1999]

Hendrich, L. 2001. A new species of Hygrobia Latreille, from peatlands of south-western Australia (Coleoptera: Hygrobiidae). Koleopterologische Rundschau. Wien 71: 17-25 [Date published Jun/2001]

Hendrich, L. & Watts, C.H.S. 2004. Taxonomic revision of the Australian genus Sternopriscus Sharp, 1882 (Coleoptera: Ditiscidae: Hydroporinae). Entomologische Rundschau 74: 75-142

Jasper, S.K. 1 Dec 2008. Water Beetle World.

Langille, B.L., Tierneym S.M., Bertozzi, T., Beasley-Hall, P.G., Bradford, T.M., Fagan-Jeffries, E.P., Hyde, J., Leijs, R., Richardson, M., Saint, K.M., Stringer, D.N., Villastrigo, A., Humphreys, W.F., Austin, A.D. & Cooper, S.J.B. 2022. Parallel decay of vision genes in subterranean water beetles. Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution 173: 107522

Larson, D.J. 1993. Ecology of tropical Australian Hydradephaga (Insecta: Coleoptera). Part I. Natural history and distribution of northern Queensland species. Proceedings of the Royal Society of Queensland 103: 47-63

Larson, D.J. 1994. Boongurrus rivulus, a new genus and species of water beetle (Coleoptera: Dytiscidae: Bidessini) from northern Queensland, Australia. Journal of the Australian Entomological Society 33(3): 217-221 [Date published 26/Aug/1994]

Larson, D.J. 1997. Habitat and community patterns of tropical Australian Hydradephagan water beetles (Coleoptera: Dytiscidae, Gyrinidae, Noteridae). Australian Journal of Entomology 36: 269-285

Larson, D.J. & Storey, R.I. 1994. Carabhydrus mubboonus, a new species of rheophilic water beetle (Coleoptera: Dytiscidae) from Queensland, Australia. The Canadian Entomologist 126: 895-906

Leech, H.B. & Chandler, H.P. 1956. Chapter 13. Aquatic Coleoptera.pp. 293–371 in Usinger, R.L. (ed.) Aquatic Insects of California with Keys to North American Genera and California Species.Berkeley : Univ. California Press ix 508 pp.

Matthews, E.G. 1980. A Guide to the Genera of Beetles of South Australia. Part 1. Archostemata and Adephaga. Adelaide : South Australian Museum 68 pp.

Nilsson, A.N. 2001. World Catalogue of Insects. Dytiscidae (Coleoptera). Stenstrup : Apollo Books Vol. 3 395 pp.

Nilsson, A.N. & Hájek, J. 1 Jan 2020. A world catalogue of the family Dytiscidae, or the Diving Beetles (Coleoptera, Adephaga). Water Beetles. 1.I.2020.

Pederzani, F. 1999. Sternopriscus wattsi n. sp. from SW Australia (Insecta Coleoptera Dytiscidae). Quaderno di Studi e Notizie di Storia Naturale della Romagna 11(Suppl.): 5-8

Sharp, D. 1882. On aquatic carnivorous Coleoptera or Dytiscidae. Scientific Transactions of the Royal Dublin Society 2 2: 179-1003

Spangler, P.J. 1991. Dytiscidae (Adephaga). pp. 315-319 in Stehr, F.W. (ed.). Immature Insects. Coleoptera and Diptera. Dubuque, Iowa : Kendall-Hunt Vol. 2 xvi 975 pp.

Toussaint, E.F.A., Hendrich, L., Escalona, H.E., Porch, N. & Balke, M. 2016. Evolutionary history of a secondary terrestrial Australian diving beetle (Coleoptera, Dytiscidae) reveals a lineage of high morphological and ecological plasticity. Systematic Entomology 41(3): 650–657 [Date published July 2016]

Watts, C.H.S. 1963. The larvae of Australian Dytiscidae (Coleoptera). Transactions of the Royal Society of South Australia 87: 32-40

Watts, C.H.S. 1964. The larvae of Australian Cybister spp. Curt., Homoeodytes spp. Reg. and Hyderodes shuckardi Hope (Coleoptera: Dytiscidae). Transactions of the Royal Society of South Australia 88: 145-156

Watts, C.H.S. 1978. A revision of the Australian Dytiscidae (Coleoptera). Australian Journal of Zoology Supplementary Series 57: 1-166

Watts, C.H.S. 1997a. A new genus and species of Australian Dytiscidae (Coleoptera). Records of the South Australian Museum (Adelaide) 29(2): 121-123 [Date published 8/Apr/1997]

Watts, C.H.S. 1997b. Four new species of Antiporus Sharp (Coleoptera, Dytiscidae) from Australia, with notes on A. femoralis (Boh.) and A. interrogationis (Clark). Records of the South Australian Museum (Adelaide) 30(1): 35-42 [Date published Jul/1997]

Watts, C.H.S. 2000. Three new species of Tiporus Watts (Coleoptera: Dytiscidae) with redescriptions of the other species in the genus. Records of the South Australian Museum (Adelaide) 33(2): 89-99

Watts, C.H.S. 2002. Checklists & guides to the identification, to genus, of adult & larval Australian water beetles of the families Dytiscidae, Noteridae, Hygrobiidae, Haliplidae, Gyrinidae, Hydraenidae and the superfamily Hydrophiloidea (Insecta: Coleoptera). Identification & Ecology Guide No. 43. Albury : Co-operative research Centre for Freshwater Ecology viii 110 pp.

Watts, C.H.S. & Humphreys, W.F. 1999. Three new genera and five new species of Dytiscidae (Coleoptera) from underground waters in Australia. Records of the South Australian Museum (Adelaide) 32(2): 121–142

Watts, C.H.S. & Humphreys, W.F. 2000. Six new species of Nirridessus Watts and Humphreys and Tjirtudessus Watts and Humphreys (Coleoptera: Dytiscidae) from underground waters in Australia. Records of the South Australian Museum (Adelaide) 33(2): 127-144

Watts, C.H.S. & Humphreys, W.F. 2001. A new genus and six new species of Dytiscidae (Coleoptera) from underground waters in the Yilgarn palaeodrainage system of Western Australia. Records of the South Australian Museum (Adelaide) 34(2): 99-114

Watts, C.H.S. & Humphreys, W.F. 2004. Thirteen new Dytiscidae (Coleoptera) of the genera Boongurrus Larson, Tjirtudessus Watts & Humphreys and Nirripirti Watts and Humphreys, from underground waters in Australia. Transactions of the Royal Society of South Australia 128(2): 99-129

Watts, C.H.S. & Pinder, A. 2000. Two new species of Antiporus Sharp from Western Australia (Coleoptera: Dytiscidae). Records of the South Australian Museum (Adelaide) 33(1): 17-19

Wewalka, G. 1994. A new species of Chostonectes from Australia (Coleoptera: Dytiscidae). Zeitschrift der Arbeitsgemeinschaft Österreichischer Entomologen 46(3/4): 140-141 [Date published 30 Oct. 1994]

Zimmerman, A. 1920. Dytiscidae, Haliplidae, Hygrobiidae, Amphizoidae. pp. 1-326 in Schenkling, S. (ed.). Coleopterorum Catalogus auspiciis et auxilio W. Junk. Berlin : W. Junk Vol. 4 Pars 71. [Date published 15/Dec/1920]


History of changes

Note that this list may be incomplete for dates prior to September 2013.
Published As part of group Action Date Action Type Compiler(s)
20-Jul-2023 DYTISCIDAE 20-Jul-2023 MODIFIED
04-Aug-2021 DYTISCIDAE 15-Jun-2023 MODIFIED
27-Nov-2020 ADEPHAGA 20-Jul-2023 MODIFIED Max Beatson (AM)
30-Aug-2016 DYTISCIDAE 20-Jul-2023 MODIFIED
27-May-2014 DYTISCIDAE 20-Jul-2023 MODIFIED Dr Federica Turco (QM)
20-Jul-2023 MODIFIED