Australian Biological Resources Study

Australian Faunal Directory

Atyphella lychnis

Atyphella lychnis


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Compiler and date details

August 2012 - ABRS

Andrew A. Calder, CSIRO Entomology, Canberra, Australian Capital Territory, Australia


The Lampyridae include the true fireflies, the larvae of which are generally terrestrial and found in damp localities down the eastern coast of Australia, mainly restricted to rainforests and mangroves. The family is well represented in tropical regions and contains about 2000 species in 100 genera (Lawrence 1982). However, it is poorly represented in Australia and consists of 18 species in four genera (Calder 1998). Following revision by Ballantyne and Lambkin (2000), the Australian fauna consists of 15 species of Atyphella Olliff, seven species of Luciola Laporte, two species of Pteroptyx Olivier, and Pyrophanes beccarii Olivier and two unidentified species all included in the subfamily Luciolinae.

There are no endemic genera in Australia: Luciola, Pteroptyx Olivier and Pyrophanes Olivier are shared with New Guinea, Indonesia and the Indo-Chinese region, and Pteroptyx cribellata and Pyrophanes beccarii are widely distributed in New Guinea and on Cape York Peninsula.

Lampyris australis Fabricius, 1775 was the first Australian lampyrid to be described. It was collected by Banks in 1770 during the voyage of the Endeavour along the eastern seaboard of Australia. Boisduval (1835) described three species collected on the voyage of the Astrolabe during 1826–1829, while Olivier (1885, 1888, 1892, 1896, 1902) described six species and one subspecies of which only three are valid. Olliff (1890) described four species and a new genus, Atyphella, that was considered by Ballantyne (1968) to be a subgenus of Luciola but which she later restored to generic level (Ballantyne 1992). Blackburn (1897) described Luciola cowleyi and Macleay (1872) described Luciola flavicollis. Lea (1909) was the first to revise the Australian fauna. He enumerated nine species, two of which were newly described, and provided keys for the determination of the known species. Lea also commented that he doubted the generic distinctness of Atyphella, although he did not formally synonymise it with Luciola. In a further four papers, Lea (1915, 1921a, 1921b, 1929) described another seven species two of which are synonyms. Until the recent work of Ballantyne, Pic (1932, 1938) was the only other author to publish on the Australian fauna, describing two new species (both of which are synonyms). Ballantyne (1968) reviewed and provided keys to the genera and subgenera of Luciolini from the Australian and Indomalayan region. Ballantyne & McLean (1970) and Ballantyne (1987a) revised the genus Pteroptyx, while Ballantyne (1987b) reviewed lucioline morphology, taxonomy and mating behaviour and postulated that Luciola could be subdivided on the basis of abdominal structure. Ballantyne (1992) revised the lucioline fauna of the south-western Pacific, associated several larvae with their respective adults and identified another five new Australian species for her thesis dissertation. Olliff (1890) provided the first description of an Australian lampyrid larva, that of the Mt Wilson firefly, Atyphella lychnus Olliff, which he found under some decaying wood. More recently, Ballantyne & Buck (1979) and Ballantyne (1988) have provided illustrations and a description of the larva of Luciola pudica Olliff (now L. australis (Fabricius)). Olivier (1910) provided the first catalogue to the world lampyrid fauna and McDermott (1966) revised this work.

The first attempt at a classification of the fireflies was initiated by Laporte (1833) and refined further by Lacordaire (1857). Lacordaire (1857) considered lampyrids as a tribe of the catch-all family Malacodermes along with the tribes Lycides, Téléphorides, Drilides and Mélyrides. The Lampyrides was further subdivided into Lampyrides vrais and Luciolides. Olivier published numerous species lists and revisions between 1883 and 1907 which culminated in another classification (Olivier 1907) which recognised nine subfamilies. Green (1948) published another outline for a classification of the subfamily Lampyrinae based upon the Nearctic fauna. McDermott (1966) presented a higher classification of the world fauna which recognised seven subfamilies, and included the Luciolinae with three tribes. Crowson (1972) also gave a key to eight subfamilies of Lampyridae that he recognised. The four Australian genera (Atyphella, Luciola, Pteroptyx and Pyrophanes) are all included in the tribe Luciolini of the subfamily Luciolinae.

McDermott (1966) listed the type localities of Lampyris haemorrhoidalis Boisduval as Australia, L. incerta Boisduval as Oceania and L. serraticornis Boisduval as the Pacific Islands. However, examination of the original publication of Boisduval (1835) reveals that Lampyris haemorrhoidalis was described from "Iles de l'Océan Pacifique" and both L. incerta and L. serraticornis from "Nouvelle-Hollande". Thus Lampyris haemorrhoidalis, since it has not been recorded definitely from Australia, is excluded from the Australian fauna and both L. incerta and L. serraticornis should be considered Australian. Both species are so far unidentified due to the apparent loss of type specimens for critical study.

The designation of type species of some lampyrid genera has seemed to this author to be somewhat anarchical. Lucas (1920: 562) listed the type species of Pyrophanes as P. indica Motschulsky, a species not even included originally. The only other designation that Calder (1998) could find was that of McDermott (1964: 46), who designated Pyrophanes similis Olivier, a species that had originally been included in the genus and which is undoubtedly a valid designation. This designation was cited by Calder (1998). Olivier (1902) included two species when characterising his new genus Pteroptyx: Luciola testacea Motschulsky and L. malaccae Gorham. Lucas (1920: 557) subsequently designated Luciola testacea as type species for this genus. This designation was also cited by McDermott (1964: 46, 1966: 117). However, Ballantyne & McLean (1970: 237) considered that Luciola testacea Motschulsky had been wrongly assigned to Pteroptyx, in their sense, and later Ballantyne (1987a) showed that Pteroptyx is composed of two distinct groups: a group of Australian and New Guinea species with deflexed elytral apices and an Indomalayan-Philippines group which includes Luciola malaccae Olivier. This opinion was further modified by Ballantyne (1992) who showed that the bent-wing group of fireflies, all previously assigned to Pteroptyx, is actually a complex of three distinct groups. Ballantyne considered that a case should be submitted to the ICZN setting aside the original type species designation of Lucas (1920) since Olivier, in erecting Pteroptyx, had clearly intended to base the genus on species with deflexed elytral apices. Unfortunately, Olivier did not verify the identity of the two species he based his genus on. The generic description clearly shows that his intention had been to distinguish species with deflexed elytral apices, but instead erroneously based his concept on misidentified specimens. To date this case has not been submitted and Calder (1998) recorded the original type species designation of Lucas. It should be noted here that as considerable behavioural work on species of this genus exist (see Lloyd 1971, 1973a, 1973b, 1978, 1979, 1983), this problem should be attended to promptly.

Fireflies are nocturnal and well known for the production of a greenish-yellow light from abdominal light organs which is used in species specific mating displays. This light is produced by an enzyme-mediated, biochemical oxidation reaction that produces almost no heat and is controlled by the beetle's nervous system (McElroy & DeLuca 1978). Luciola species are commonly seen flying around at grass level during dusk in northern Australia. Species of the genus Pteroptyx are involved in the arboreal synchronous flashing in South-East Asia (Buck 1938) and Thailand (Buck & Buck 1966). These synchronous displays have all occurred in trees or shrubs along tidal rivers in mangrove swamps and Nipa palm stands (Ballantyne & McLean 1970).

The larvae of lampyrids occur in soil and leaf litter where they prey upon snails, slugs, earthworms and other invertebrates. Larvae inject toxic digestive enzymes into their prey, resulting in liquefaction of the prey's body contents; the contents are then imbibed by the larva (Lawrence 1982).



Adult lampyrids are elongate, soft-bodied flattened beetles ranging in length from 4 to 30 mm. The head is at least partly concealed from above by the pronotum and the male has enlarged eyes. The antennae are short and vary from filiform to serrate and the antennal insertions are usually approximate. The mandibles are small, curved, falcate and perforate. The mesotrochantins are usually setiferous. The elytra are simple and complete in the male but are occasionally shortened in the female. Females of Atyphella scintillans Olliff are brachypterous (Ballantyne 1968). In Pteroptyx males the apices of the elytra are deflexed. Abdominal spiracles are located in the dorsally reflexed edges of the sternites. The fourth tarsal segment is bilobed and the claws usually simple, rarely appendiculate. Both sexes have luminous organs located near the apex of the abdomen. The female usually has an elongate ovipositor (Lawrence 1982; Lawrence & Britton 1994).

The larvae are elongate, flattened and somewhat narrowed anteriorly and posteriorly. The thoracic and abdominal tergites are sometimes laterally expanded to form projections as in Atyphella. The head is small and retractable and usually concealed by the pronotum. The mandibles are curved and perforate. Abdominal segment 8 bears a luminous organ, segment 9 is terminal and 10 has a holdfast organ consisting of several eversible, asperate, tubular filaments (Lawrence 1982).


General References

Ballantyne, L.A. 1968. Revisional studies of Australian and Indomalayan Luciolini (Coleoptera: Lampyridae: Luciolinae). University of Queensland Papers, Department of Entomology 11(6): 105-139

Ballantyne, L.A. 1987a. Further revisional studies on the firefly genus Pteroptyx Olivier (Coleoptera: Lampyridae: Luciolinae: Luciolini). Transactions of the American Entomological Society 113: 117-170 [Date published August 7, 1987]

Ballantyne, L.A. 1987b. Lucioline morphology, taxonomy and behaviour: A reappraisal (Coleoptera, Lampyridae). Transactions of the American Entomological Society 113: 171-188

Ballantyne, L.A. 1988. The identities of Luciola australis (F.) and L. guerini Laporte (Coleoptera: Lampyridae). Journal of the Australian Entomological Society 27(3): 161-165

Ballantyne, L.A. 1992. Revisional studies on flashing fireflies (Coleoptera: Lampyridae). Unpubl. Ph.D. Thesis Brisbane : Univ. of Queensland. 2 vols 420 pp.

Ballantyne, L.A. & Buck, E. 1979. Taxonomy and behavior of Luciola (Luciola) aphrogeneia, a new surf firefly from Papua New Guinea. Transactions of the American Entomological Society 105: 117-137 [Date published 6 July 1979]

Ballantyne, L.A. & Lambkin, C. 2000. Lampyridae of Australia (Coleoptera: Lampyridae: Luciolinae: Luciolini). Memoirs of the Queensland Museum 46(1): 15–93 [Date published 31 Dec. 2000]

Ballantyne, L.A. & McLean, M.R. 1970. Revisional studies on the firefly genus Pteroptyx Olivier (Coleoptera: Lampyridae: Luciolinae: Luciolini). Transactions of the American Entomological Society 96: 223-305 [Date published August 18, 1970]

Blackburn, T. 1897. Further notes on Australian Coleoptera, with descriptions of new genera and species. Part XXI. Transactions of the Royal Society of South Australia 21: 28-39 [Date published Jul. 31, 1897]

Boisduval, J.B.A.D. 1835. Voyage de Découvertes de l'Astrolabe exécuté par ordre du Roi, pendant les années 1826–1827–1828–1829, sous le commandement de M.J. Dumont d'Urville. Faune entomologique de l'Océan Pacifique, avec l'illustration des insectes nouveaux recueillis pendant le voyage. 2me Partie. Coléoptères et autres Ordres. Paris : J. Tastu Vol. 2 vii 267 pp.

Buck, J.B. 1938. Synchronous rhythmic flashing of fireflies. Quarterly Review of Biology 13: 301-314

Buck, J.B. & E.M. 1966. Biology of synchronous flashing of fireflies. Nature (London) 211: 562-564

Calder, A.A. 1998. Coleoptera: Elateroidea. In Wells, A. (ed.) Zoological Catalogue of Australia. Volume 29.6. Melbourne : CSIRO Publishing, Australia. xiii 248 pp.

Crowson, R.A. 1972. A review of the classification of Cantharoidea (Coleoptera), with the definition of two new families, Cneoglossidae and Omethidae. Revista de la Universidad de Madrid 21(82): 35-77

Fabricius, J.C. 1775. Systema Entomologiae, sistens Insectorum Classes, Ordines, Genera, Species, adiectis Synonymis, Locis, Descriptionibus, Observationibus. Flensburgi et Lipsiae [= Flensburg & Leipzig] : Kortii xxxii 832 pp. [Date published 17 April]

Green, J.W. 1948. Two new species of Lampyridae from southern Florida, with a generic revision of the Nearctic fauna. Transactions of the American Entomological Society 74: 61-73

Lacordaire, T. 1857. Histoire Naturelle des Insectes. Genera des Coléoptères. Paris : Librairie Encyclopédique de Roret Vol. 4 579 pp.

Laporte, F.L. (Compte de Castelnau) 1833. Essai d'une révision du genre Lampyre. Annales de la Société Entomologique de France 2: 122-153

Lawrence, J.F. 1982. Coleoptera. pp. 482-553 in Parker, S.P. (ed.). Synopsis and Classification of Living Organisms. New York : McGraw Hill Vol. 2 vii 1232 pp.

Lea, A.M. 1909. Revision of the Australian and Tasmanian Malacodermidae. Transactions of the Royal Entomological Society of London 1909(1): 45-251 pls II-VI [Date published Jun. 4, 1909]

Lea, A.M. 1915. Descriptions of new species of Australian Coleoptera. Part XI. Proceedings of the Linnean Society of New South Wales 40(3): 490-521 pl XLVIII [Date published Dec. 10, 1915]

Lea, A.M. 1921a. On Coleoptera, mostly from Queensland. Memoirs of the Queensland Museum 7(3): 182-240, pl. 13

Lea, A.M. 1921b. On Australian Coleoptera of the family Malacodermidae. Transactions of the Royal Society of South Australia 45: 50-135

Lea, A.M. 1929. On Coleoptera, mostly from Queensland. (Part II). Memoirs of the Queensland Museum 9(3): 335-363 [Date published Jun. 29, 1929]

Lloyd, J.E. 1971. Bioluminescent communication in insects. Annual Review of Entomology 16: 97-122

Lloyd, J.E. 1973a. Fireflies of Melanesia: Bioluminescence, mating behaviour and synchronous flashing. Environmental Entomology 2: 991-1008

Lloyd, J.E. 1973b. Model for the mating protocol of synchronously flashing fireflies. Nature (London) 245: 268-270

Lloyd, J.E. 1978. Insect bioluminescence. In, Herring, P.J. (ed.). Bioluminescence in Action. New York : Academic Press 570 pp.

Lloyd, J.E. 1979. Sexual selection in luminescent beetles. pp. 293-342 in Blum, M. & Blum, N. (eds). Sexual Selection and Reproductive Competition in Insects. New York : Academic Press 463 pp.

Lloyd, J.E. 1983. Bioluminescence and communication in insects. Annual Review of Entomology 28: 131-160

Lucas, R. 1920. Catalogus alphabeticus generum et subgenerum Coleopterorum orbis terrarum totius (famil., trib., subtr., sect. incl.). Pars I. (1918). Archiv für Naturgeschichte A 84(1-5): 1-696, i-xxxi

Macleay, W.J. 1872. Notes on a collection of insects from Gayndah. Second paper. Transactions of the Entomological Society of New South Wales 2(4): 239-318

McDermott, F.A. 1964. The taxonomy of the Lampyridae (Coleoptera). Transactions of the American Entomological Society 90: 1-72 [Date published 27 March 1964]

McDermott, F.A. 1966. Lampyridae. pp. 1-149 in Steel, W.O. (ed.). Coleopterorum Catalogus Supplementa. Gravenhage : W. Junk Vol. 9 149 pp. [Date published 26 April 1966]

McElroy, W.D. & DeLuca, M. 1978. Chemistry of firefly luminescence. pp. 109-127 in Herring, P.J. (ed.). Bioluminescence in Action. New York : Academic Press 570 pp.

Olivier, E. 1885. Catalogue des Lampyrides faisant partie des collections du Musée Civique de Gênes. Annali del Museo Civico di Storia Naturale, Genova 2a 2: 333-374

Olivier, E. 1888. Études sur les Lampyrides. Annales de la Société Entomologique de France 6 8: 35-62

Olivier, E. 1892. Descriptions de deux nouvelles espèces du genre Luciola. Annali del Museo Civico di Storia Naturale, Genova 2a 10: 1010-1011

Olivier, E. 1896. Descriptions de nouvelles espèces de Lampyrides du Musée de Tring. Novitates Zoologicae 3(1): 1-3

Olivier, E. 1902. Catalogue des espèces de Luciola et genres voisins décrits jusqu'à ce jour. Revue Scientifique du Bourbonnais 15: 69-88

Olivier, E. 1907. Coleoptera Fam. Lampyridae. pp. 1-74 in Wytsman, P. (ed.). Genera Insectorum. Bruxelles : P. Wytsman Fasc. 53 74 pp.

Olivier, E. 1910. Lampyridae. pp. 1-68 in Schenkling, S. (ed.). Coleopterorum Catalogus auspiciis et auxilio W. Junk. Berlin : W. Junk Pars 9 68 pp.

Olliff, A.S. 1890. New species of Lampyridae, including a notice of the Mt. Wilson fire-fly. Proceedings of the Linnean Society of New South Wales 2 4(3): 643-653 [Date published 3 February 1890]

Pic, M. 1932. Résultats scientifiques du voyage aux Indes orientales néerlandaises de LL. AA. RR. Le prince et la princesse Léopold de Belgique. Coleoptera. Malacodermata, Byrrhidae, Heteromera (ex parte). Mémoires du Musée Royal d'Histoire Naturelle de Belgique 4(4): 85-89

Pic, M. 1938. Beitrag zur Kenntnis der indo-malayischen Malacodermata. pp. 3-6 in Wittmer, W. Prof. Dr. E. Handschin, Studienreise auf den Sundainseln und in Nordaustralien. 1930–32. Entomologische Berichten (Amsterdam) 10: 2-7


History of changes

Note that this list may be incomplete for dates prior to September 2013.
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