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Family LYCAENIDAE Leach, 1815

Blues, Coppers, Hairstreaks

Compiler and date details

October 2017 - M.F. Braby


Lycaenidae are characterised by having the male fore legs reduced, but the female fore legs normal, head with bases of the antennae close together, epiphysis absent, fore wing with some branches of R forked, pupa with anal hooks and usually a central girdle, and larva flattened with head retractile. These are mostly small butterflies, usually blue in colour. Often the blue or purple is a brilliant shining colour created by the ultrastructure of the scales reflecting certain wavelengths of light. A few species are copper, or yellow and red. Many species have small tails on the hind wings with red or black dots near the base of the tail. This is believed to represent a false head to divert vertebrate attack from the more vulnerable real head. Adults sit and move the hind wings up and down to enhance the visibility of the spots.

The higher systematics of the Lycaenidae, summarised by Pierce et al. (2002) and Vane-Wright (2003), was last revised by Eliot (1973). Of the six subfamilies currently recognised, only three, Miletinae, Theclinae and Polyommatinae, occur in Australia. The Poritiinae are restricted to the Oriental and Afrotropical Regions, the Curetinae are found mainly in the Oriental, with a weaker representation in the Australian (mainland New Guinea) and Palaearctic Regions, while the Lycaeninae are widespread although absent from the Australian continent.

Currenlty, 153 species of Lycaenidae occur in Australia (Braby 2010). The Miletinae is poorly represented with only one species, whereas the Theclinae (83 species) and Polyommatinae (69 species) are numerically dominant. Four tribes (Luciini, Ogyrini, Zesiusini, Candalidini) are largely Australian with many endemic species, although two have speciated extensively in New Guinea.

In the Theclinae, Luciini are mostly Australian although the genera Hypochrysops C. & R. Felder and Philiris Röber include many New Guinean species. Zesiini include two Australian genera, but their relationship to the Indian genus Zesius Hübner appears doubtful. Similarly, the origin of the Australian endemic groups is uncertain and requires further investigation. Three species of the Lycaena group of the Lycaeninae that occur in New Zealand have no relatives in Australia although there is one related genus (Melanolycaena Sibatani) in New Guinea.

In the Polyommatinae, the Candalidini include the Australian endemic genus Nesolycaena Waterhouse & Turner and Candalides Hübner which has speciated extensively in New Guinea. Members of the genera Theclinesthes Röber and Neolucia Waterhouse & Turner are mostly Australian, but the remaining genera occur widely in New Guinea or the Oriental Region.

Lycaenidae are noted for their close association of many species with ants. The association may be predatory (as an unwelcome guest, for example Liphyra Westwood or as a welcome guest, for example Acrodipsas Sands), or non-predatory, being mutually advantageous, sometimes obligatory or entirely casual. A few species (for example Hypochrysops ignitus (Leach)) have a close association with a certain species of ant and have developed more relaxed food plant requirements as a result. Predation on ant brood seems to have developed at least four times in the Australian Lycaenidae, in Liphyra and Acrodipsas, in Ogyris Angas and Arhopala Boisduval. More generally, however, larvae feed on a wide variety of (usually) dicotyledonous plants, and some Theclinae are fruit feeders. Many Polyommatinae feed on flowers or immature leaves. Zesiini feed on species of Acacia or Senna. Luciini and Candalidini feed on a range of plants, some Luciini even on ferns. Ogyrini feed on parasitic plants in the Loranthaceae and Santalaceae, but two species are believed to be predatory on ants. The literature on studies of ant associations may be accessed through Pierce & Nash (1999). Eastwood & Fraser (1999) and Pierce et al. (2002).


General References

Ackery, P.R., de Jong, R. & Vane-Wright, R.I. 1998. The Butterflies: Hedyloidea, Hesperioidea and Papilionoidea. pp. 263-300 in Kristensen, N.P. (ed.). Lepidoptera, Moths and Butterflies. Volume 1: Evolution, Systematics, and Biogeography. Handbuch der Zoologie/Handbook of Zoology. Volume IV Arthropoda: Insecta Part 35. i-x. Berlin : Walter de Gruyter Vol. 1(35).

Braby, M.F. 2000. The Butterflies of Australia, their identification, biology and distribution. Melbourne : CSIRO Publishing xx 976 pp.

Braby, M.F. 2010. The merging of taxonomy and conservation biology: a synthesis of Australian butterfly systematics (Lepidoptera: Hesperioidea and Papilionoidea). Zootaxa 2707: 1-76 [Date published 3 Dec 2010]

Eastwood, R. & Fraser, A.M. 1999. Associations between lycaenid butterflies and ants in Australia. Australian Journal of Ecology 24: 503-537

Eliot, J.N. 1973. The higher classification of the Lycaenidae (Lepidoptera): a tentative arrangement. Bulletin of the British Museum (Natural History) 28(6): 371-505

Hirowatari, T. 1992. A generic classification of the tribe Polyommatini of the Oriental and Australian regions (Lepidoptera, Lycaenidae, Polyommatinae). Bulletin of the University of Osaka Prefecture B 44(Suppl.): 1-102

Pierce, N.E., Braby, M.F., Heath, A., Lohman, D.J., Mathew, J., Rand, D.B., Travassos, M.A. 2002. The ecology and evolution of ant association in the Lycaenidae (Lepidoptera). Annual Review of Entomology 47: 733–771

Pierce, N.E. & Nash, D.R. 1999. The Imperial Blue, Jalmenus evagoras (Lycaenidae). pp. 279-315 in Kitching, R.L., Scheermeyer, E., Jones, R.L. & Pierce, N.E. (eds). Biology of Australian Butterflies. Collingwood : CSIRO Publishing xvi 395 pp.

Sands, D.P.A. 1980. A new genus, Acrodipsas, for a group of Lycaenidae (Lepidoptera) previously referred to Pseudodipsas C. & R. Felder, with descriptions of two new species from northern Queensland. Journal of the Australian Entomological Society 18(3): 251-265 [Date published 14/Mar/1980]

Sands, D.P.A. 1986. A revision of the genus Hypochrysops C. & R. Felder. Entomonograph 7: 1-116

Vane-Wright, R.I. 2003. Evidence and identity in butterfly systematics. pp. 477–513 in Boggs, C.L., Watt, W.B. & Ehrlich, P.R. Butterflies: Ecology and Evolution Taking Flight. Chicago : University of Chicago Press.


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)
02-Nov-2017 LYCAENIDAE Leach, 1815 13-Feb-2018 MODIFIED
06-Feb-2014 LYCAENIDAE 06-Feb-2014 REVIEWED Dr Federica Turco (QM)
05-Mar-2013 05-Mar-2013 MODIFIED
30-Mar-2012 30-Mar-2012 MODIFIED
28-Mar-2012 28-Mar-2012 MODIFIED
12-Feb-2010 (import)