Northern Australian Insects

Northern Australian insects are generally large.

North eastern Australia is in the tropics which means our insects are generally larger than the insects of southern Australia.

We have Australia's largest moths and butterflies, we have the large praying mantis and stick insects, giant cockroaches, colourful bugs, nasty mosquitoes, and mound building termites (you can see their mounds everywhere in Cape York).

I don't aim to cover every single insect or even insect group on this page - only the ones that are more interesting for travellers.

Dragonflies and Damselflies (Odonata)

dragonfly insect

Dragonflies and Damselflies
Dragonflies have thicker bodies and hold their wings spread-out while damselflies have more delicate bodies and hold their wings together above their backs.
They are beautiful insects and in tropical north Queensland, we have many species of both, most often seen flying around rainforest creeks and waterholes.

Cockroaches and Termites (Blattodea)

australian cockroaches

We don't have kitchen cockroaches as much as they do down south (at least what I used to have in my
rented Sydney flats).
We have some larger ones, such as the 4cm Australian cockroach, 4.5cm wood cockroach, 2.3cm bush cockroach and banded cockroach; and the 7-8cm giant burrowing cockroach.

australian termites

There are obviously also termites in southern Australia, but as southern Australia is cooler, termites don't need to build mounds (their purpose is ventilation).

In northern Australia, we have mound building termites like rainforest, spinifex and giant termites.

Praying Mantids (Mantodea)

praying mantid

Praying Mantis
We have some beautiful, large praying mantids. They are some of my favourite insects, you can look right into their large eyes. We have at least four different species - the 4cm garden mantis, the 8.5cm giant mantis, the 2.5cm leaf mantis, and the whopping 11cm stick mantis.

Leaf and Stick Insects (Phasmatodea)

stick insects

Leaf and Stick Insects
Leaf and stick insects can be even larger. They can be confused with the mantids, but they lack the large front legs as they are herbivores (and don't need them to catch the prey). We have the 16cm spiny leaf insect, the 10cm peppermint stick, and at least one species of stick insect.

Grasshoppers, Crickets and Katydids (Orthoptera)

grass hopper

Grasshoppers are not my favourites as they jump and they can bite. But my cat used to love them! In tropical north Queensland, we have the 3.2cm monkey grasshopper, the 3.5cm spotted and litter grasshopper, the 4.5cm matchstick and dead leaf grasshopper, and the 8.5cm hedge grasshopper.

cricket insect

Crickets are related to grasshoppers, but they have longer antennaes and they hold their back legs more spread-out. In tropical north Queensland, we have the 1.2cm tree trunk crickets, the 2.8cm burrowing crickets, the 3cm northern field crickets, the 3.3cm mole crickets and the 8cm white kneed king crickets.


Katydids also belong to the grasshopper family. The most common to see in the tropical rainforest areas is the green 6.5cm leafy katydid (and it bites!). The other green one is the 4.2cm predatory katydid. And then there are the
brown, 9.5cm, prickly katydid, and the black-and-white, 2.7cm daytime katydid.

Beetles and Weevils (Coleoptera)

beetle insect

Beetles is the largest group of Australian insects, and in tropical north Queensland we have too many species to list here. Some of the more extreme looking ones are rhino beetles, stag beetles and dung beetles. Some of the more common ones to see are christmas beetles, particularly active around Christmas time.


Weevils are also beetles, but they look quite different with their long snout, and their short, elbowed antennaes. They are quite small, and they are not very good flyers. In tropical north Queensland we have the 1.1cm pipturus weevil, the 2.3cm cryptorhynch weevil, and the 2-3.5cm brenthid and long nosed weevil.

Bugs and Cicadas (Hemiptera)


Another large group is bugs, some of which can look like beetles (most don't at all), but they all have a triangular structure on their back (called scutellum), you can see that in one form or another on all of them. Again, there are too many to try to list them all here, but some of the better looking ones are shield bugs, harlequin bugs and others.

cicada insect

Cicadas are also a kind of bug, but they are very distinctive with their broad heads, large eyes and long, transparent wings. But they are mostly known for their sound - they are the ones responsible for the loud, monotone screeching sound in rainforests. We have northern double drummer, northern greengrocer, and green whizzer cicada.

Flies and Mosquitoes (Diptera)

australian mosquito

Mosquitoes and flies belong to the same order, and like bugs, they eat by sucking liquids. Some, like female mosquitoes and some flies suck blood. In tropical north Queensland we have giant mosquito, common banded mosquito, and the infamous dengue mosquito, aka tiger mosquito, that carries dengue fever.

house fly

The blood suckers here are horse flies and march flies. The rest in tropical north Queensland includes house flies, bush flies, bristle flies, blow flies,
soldier flies, robber flies, hover flies, fruit flies, flesh flies, stalk eyed flies, and dolichopodid flies to name some.

Moths and Butterflies (Lepidoptera)

australian butterflies

We also have a lot of butterflies, and in far north Queensland we are lucky to have Australia's largest butterflies - Cairns birdwing and Ulysses. You can see them with some luck, but a good spot happens to be Kuranda (also the home for
Australian Butterfly Sanctuary).

australian moths

We also have Australia's largest moth - hercules moth with a wingspan of 22.5cm! Others include splendid ghost moth, giant wood moth, north Queensland day moth, Australian privet hawk moth, bag shelter moth, fruit piercing moth, Joseph's coat moth and granny's cloak moth.

Wasps, Bees and Ants (Hymenoptera)

australian wasps

Bees and Wasps
Australian bees and wasps are far less aggressive than European ones. In tropical north Queensland we have flower wasps, cuckoo wasps, paper wasps, digger wasps, potter wasps and ichneumon wasps; blue banded bees, carpenter bees, and introduced as well as native honey bees.

australian ants

Ants are related to wasps and bees (and not termites that are incorrectly called 'white ants'). In tropical north Queensland we have jumper ants, trap jaw ants, two species of meat ants, and the beautiful green tree ants that you can see almost everywhere.

Butterflies in Cape York

We have some beautiful butterflies in Cape York.

We don't only have the variety, we also have the largest Australian butterflies in Cape York and tropical north Queensland.

The most famous is the electric blue Ulysses butterfly, the largest is the female Cairns Birdwing, and the most impressive is the monarch butterfly - known as the master of world insect migration.

There are about 240 species of butterflies in this part of Australia, and not all are on this page.

nymph butterfly

Crows, Browns and Nymphs
From this group we have Monarch butterfly Danaus plexippus, blue tiger butterfly Tirumala hamata, orange bushbrown Mycalesis terminus, Cairns hamadryad Tellervo zoilus, common crow Euploea core, tailed emperor Polyura sempronius, red lacewing Cethosia cydippe, and glasswing Acraea andromacha.

blue butterfly

Coppers and Blues

We have copper jewel Hypochrysops apelles, apollo jewel
Hypochrysops apollo, moth butterfly Liphyra brassolis, common oakblue butterfly Arhopala micale, common tit butterfly Hypolycaena phorbas, small green banded blue Psychonotis caelius, blue argus butterfly Junonia orithya, and blue banded eggfly Hypolimnas alimena.

yellow butterfly

Jezabels, Yellows and Whites
From the group of jezabel, yellow and white Australian butterflies, in tropical north Queensland we have common jezabel Delias nigrina, union jack butterfly Delias mysis, common grass yellow butterfy Eurema hecabe, and lemon migrant butterfly Catopsilia pomona.

swallowtail butterfly

From this group of impressive Australian butterflies we have
Cairns birdwing Ornithoptera priamus, Ulysses butterfly Papilio ulysses, orchard swallowtail Papilio aegeus, red bodied swallotail Atrophaneura polydorus, green spooted triangle Graphium agamemnon and blue triangle butterfly Graphium sarpedon.

skipper butterfly

Skippers belong to the family Hesperiidae. In tropical north Queensland we have regent skipper
butterfly Euschemon rafflesia, orange dart butterfly Suniana sunias, yellow palmdart butterfly Cephrenes trichopepla, and common red eye butterfly Chaetocneme beata.

Green Ants

One thing you will come across in Cape York is green ants.

They are beautiful ants that are green in colour, which works as perfect camouflage because they live in trees.

They are found everywhere in northern Australia and also other tropical regions in the world such as south east Asia and central Africa.

In Australia, they are known to have been used as bush tucker and bush medicine by Aboriginal people.

They eat other insects, including tree parasites, so they are known to be good for trees. They are very territorial and can be quite aggressive to defend their territory.

green ants

And they can also be aggressive to you. Their bite is not very painful but can still be annoying particularly if many of them drop onto you as you walk under trees.
Their nests are up in the trees and easy to recognise so where you see them expect the tree to be full of ants.

They build their nests by pulling living leaves together and cementing them
with silk produced by their larvae. If you happen to see them building it's quite a sight as they co-operate to pull the leaves together.

green ant nest

Below are some more green ant facts:

* World-wide they are more commonly called weaver ants, thanks to the way they build their nests.

* They are 100% tree dwellers and they aggressively defend their territory.

* As many as 100 nests can make up a colony which can span several trees.

* Like many other ants they prey on other smaller insects. 

* Like mentioned above, apart from Australia they are also found in south east Asia and central Africa.

* There are two species of the so-called weaver ants: the one found in central Africa is called Oecophylla longinoda and the one found in Australia and south east Asia is called 
Oecophylla smaragdina.

* The longinoda is yellowish to reddish brown, while the smaragdina is green - which explains why in Australia we call them green and not weaver ants.

* The Australian species is found in northern Australia, between Broome in the west and Rockhampton in the east.

* World-wide, there are also 15 species of extinct weaver ants

* Fifteen fossil species have been found, from as long as 56 million years ago.

* Like all other ants, and wasps - their close relatives, green ants live in large colonies with a Queen and workers. In the green ants colony there are major and minor workers completing different tasks from defence to foraging.

* Like many other species of ants, they communicate using chemicals as well as body language.  

* The building of the nests is a major effort involving hunderds of workers, which was described by Joseph Banks, the botanist of Captain James Cook during their visit to Australia (and very possibly during their stay at today's Cooktown, which was their longest stay in one place).

Rhino Beetles

Rhino beetles are some of the most impressive Australian insects, and the the largest of all beetles on the Earth.

That said, the species we have in Australia are not among the world's largest, or even the largest Australian insects.

While the world's largest rhino beetles can be up to 16cm long, the species found in Australia only reach 7cm.

But they are still impressive, with their Rhinocero looking horns that in fact only the males have.

The horns are used for fighting with other males and not for harming you - their horns are completely harmless to humans.

Neither can these insects sting or bite, and the only thing that you should avoid are their sticky legs and the small claws in the end of their legs.

They are not aggressive - what they do if you threaten or harm them, is a hissing noise produced by
rubbing their abdomens against their wing covers.

rhino beetles

They have very thick exoskeletons, they do fly despite their bulkiness, and they are known to be very strong - carrying objects many, many times their own weight.

The size of their horns can vary between individuals and is known to indicate health and

rhino beetle

There are more than 300 species of rhino beetles in the world, and many species even within Australia, but the common one we see in Queensland is Xylotrupes ulysses.

In southern Queensland it is seen during the summer months, while in the tropical north, including Cape York, you can see them all year around.

They are not always very easy to see since they are nocturnal and hide during the day. During the night they are attracted to lights.

You can increase your chances by looking in two of their favourite places - Poinciana trees,

poinciana tree Poinciana tree in Ayton, south of Cooktown.

... and the nest mounds of bush turkeys.

bush turkey nestBush turkey nest.

They are attracted to rotten wood and mulch that they eat. Adults don't eat nearly as much as larvaes, that are huge in size.

Like in many other insects, the larvae stage lasts longer than the adult stage. In southern Queensland it takes the larvae up to two years to become an adult, although that takes less in the tropical north.

The adult insects only live up to about four months.

Termite Mounds

termite mound

termite mound cape york

termite mound queensland

cathedral termite mound

termite mounds

termite mound

termite mounds
Cape York certainly is full of termite mounds.

If you are from overseas, it's just one of the new things to you, if you are from southern parts of Australia, it is unusual for you too.

Termite mounds are also found in tropical climates in Africa and South America.

They are not found in southern parts of Australia.

Why not?

There are termites there!

Termites live in nests that are under ground.

Even the mound building termites have a nest under ground, under the mound.

The mound is built on the top of the nest for ventilation, so it makes sense that the mounds are built by termites that live in hot, tropical climates.

Inside the mounds, there is an extensive system of tunnels that, together with the shafts that go down to the nest, create ventilation to the nest.

The mounds come in different colours depending on the soil, which is used in construction.

They also come in different shapes and sizes, and that depends on the species of termites (it sometimes also happens that a different mob of termites may take over an abandoned nest and it may in fact be a different species).

You can observe them on your trip through Cape York. Some are tall, some are thin, others are short and/or thick. Some are large, others are small.

Magnetic Termites

Some that are distinctive are Magnetic Termites

They are also found in northern Western Australia, and Northern Territory, where Litchfield National Park is well known for them.

They build nests that are thin in one way - to avoid sun exposure during the hottest time of the day.

So their mounds are all lined in the same way, usually in the south-northerly direction.

You can see them in many places in Cape York
- along the Peninsula Developmental Road, in Mungkan Kaanju National Park, along and near the turnoff into the road to Portland Roads, Lockhart River and Iron Range National Park, and in many other places.

magnetic termites magnetic termite mound
Magnetic termite mounds

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