List of Australian Plants to Look for Leaf Miners On

Last updated: 22th August, 2022

As part of my research, I’m interested in collecting fresh leaf miners. Below is a list of host plants for which I’m particularly interested in getting material from. If you see a leaf mine on these plants, you can upload the record to the Australian Leaf Miners iNaturalist project or directly email me (email at the bottom).

I have listed them by state/territory, plant family and time of year that the mine has been recorded.

You may find similar mines on related plant families, and you may find mines at different times of the year, or even in a different state. I hope this list just gives you an idea of target plants I’m looking for.

If possible, I will also link to an example of what the mine may look like. Unfortunately sometimes all that’s in the literature is the name of the host plant, so I may not be able to provide an image of what the mine looks like (which may be why I’m interested in the plant in the first place!).

This page is constantly updated, and if the plant is listed here it means I am still interested in that plant.

If you have observed any leaf mines on the below host plants, please send me an email at ying.luo@csiro.au. If you have permission to collect from that area and are willing to send me some samples, I can also reimburse you for postage. Do get in touch. 🙂

Victoria

Malvaceae
Gynatrix pulchella – (September) – Tentiform mines that look like this

New South Wales/Australian Capital Territory

Eupomatiaceae
Eupomatia laurina – (July) – Serpentine mines that look like this

Fabaceae
Hardenbergia violacea– (March) – Blotch mines that look like this
Kennedia nigricans, K. prostrata – (September) – Underside blotch mines, may have multiple larvae inside

Malvaceae
Gynatrix pulchella – (September) – Tentiform mines that look like this
Palmeria scandens – (June) – Tortuous mine

Monimiaceae
Wilkiea hugeliana, W. macrophylla – (February, September) – Mines that look like this

Myrtaceae
Syzygium smithii – (November) – Mine-galls that look like this


Rhamnaceae
Pomaderris cinerea – (November)

Rutaceae
Acronychia imperforata – (March, June) – Mine-galls that look like this

Vitaceae
Cissus antarctica – (June) – Serpentine mines that look like this

Queensland

Eupomatiaceae
Eupomatia laurina – (July) – Serpentine mines that look like this

Fabaceae
Millettia pinnata – (Jan – March) – Blotch mines like this, or

Malvaceae
Hibiscus sp.
Sida subspicata
Malvastrum americanum – (August) – Tentiform mines that look like this

Meliaceae
Dysoxylum fraserianum

Monimiaceae
Wilkiea hugeliana, W. macrophylla – (February, September) – Mines that look like this

Oleaceae
Jasminium simplicifolium – (December)

Primulaceae
Aegiceras corniculatum – Serpentine mines that look like this

Proteaceae
Stenocarpus salignus
Stenocarpus sinatus


Rutaceae
Acronychia imperforata – (March, June) – Mine-galls that look like this

Verbeceae
Avicennia marina – (December) – Potentially serpentine mines

Vitaceae
Cissus antarctica – (June) – Serpentine mines that look like this

Western Australia

Fabaceae
Kennedia prostrata – (September) – Underside blotch mines, may have multiple larvae inside
Glycine romanosa – (April)

Rhamnaceae
Trymalium sp. – (October)

South Australia

Fabaceae
Hardenbergia violacea– (March) – Blotch mines that look like this
Kennedia nigricans, K. prostrata – (September) – Underside blotch mines, may have multiple larvae inside

Northern Territory

Fabaceae
Millettia pinnata – (Jan – March) – Blotch mines like this or this

What is a “leaf miner”?

Have you ever looked at a leaf and noticed some squiggles or blotches on it? Well that could be the work of a leaf mining insect larvae – there might be an insect in there!

A mysterious squiggle on a leaf – made by a leaf mining insect larvae!

I’ve been describing the subject of my PhD research as “a group of leaf-mining micro-moths”, but what does that phrase actually mean?

Leaf mining larvae inside a Eucalyptus sp. leaf
Leaf mining – it’s a lifestyle!
A diagram depicting examples of types of leaf miners (drawn by Lapsap_Art)

The term leaf miner actually refers to many types of insects, so there are leaf mining moths, flies, sawflies etc. It is a description of a life style, similar to the term “burrower” or “cave dwelling”. In the same way that “cave dwellers” can refer to many groups of animals that live in caves, “leaf miners” refers to many groups of insects that make mines in leaves. It just so happens that insects are the only things that are small and diverse enough to have evolved this lifestyle. Leaf mining insects include sawflies (Hymenoptera), beetles (Coleoptera), flies (Diptera) and moths (Lepidoptera). Of the leaf mining insects, a majority of the species are moths.

What do leaf mines look like? And how are they made?
A leaf mine in an Acacia sp. leaf. The dark areas are frass, and you can see the larvae in the middle of the clear patch.

Leaf mines can look quite different, depending on the type of insect and the species of the insect that made it. In general, when I look for leaf mines I look for a blotch or squiggle on a leaf, and then I hold it up to the light. If it is a leaf mine you’ll see some pellets (aka. frass aka. insect poop) in the leaf and if you’re lucky you’ll even see the larvae inside too. But what are they doing in there?

Growing up inside a leaf
A cross section of a leaf, with a leaf mining larvae shown in the epidermis (drawn by Lapsap_Art)

Leaf mining insects live and feed internally in a leaf. The female adult lays an egg on the outside of a leaf, and the larvae burrow (or mine) into the leaf and the larvae then feeds on the internal tissue of the leaf, resulting in some interesting shapes and patterns which may be observed on the outside of a leaf. Sometimes they spend their entire larval (and perhaps pupal) stage inside a leaf, and never move to a new leaf.

A leaf mining larvae feeding in the epidermis (as in the above diagram).

All insects have a larval stage. In butterflies, the larvae are commonly known as caterpillars and in flies the larvae are commonly known as maggots. When referring to “leaf miners”, it is really the behavior of the larval stage that is being referred to. The adult leaf miner is often a nondescript fly or moth that can be hard to identify as the adult form of a leaf miner (even with a microscope!).

What about the adults?
Here one of my leaf miners (a moth) exited the leaf mine and spun a cocoon on the lid of the container.

Good question! In general, once the larvae has finishing feeding it will develop into a pupa (e.g. spin a cocoon) and then eventually moult to become an adult insect (e.g. a beetle, fly, or moth). Many adult leaf miners do not feed, they have reduced or non-existent mouth parts and their aim is to disperse and mate. The females will then lay an egg on a new leaf and the cycle continues…

So what are “leaf mining micro-moths”?!
A specimen of the invasive oak leaf miner Phyllonorycter messaniella (Family: Gracillariidae) in a vial. (Yes it’s really there!)

The leaf miners I study are part of the moth family Gracillariidae, where a majority of the species are leaf miners. The adult moths are smaller than grains of rice, hence the “micro-moth” designation. Leaf miners in Australia remain quite understudied, so I’ll be updating this blog with some of the interesting findings I’ve made. Stay tuned!