Field of Science

The Psocoptera of Barrow Island

Courtenay Smithers, courtesy of the Sydney Morning Herald.

Gunawardene, N. R., C. K. Taylor & J. D. Majer. 2012. Revisiting the Psocoptera (Insecta) of Barrow Island, Western Australia. Australian Entomologist 39 (4): 253-260.

Our lab has just recently added to its publication list with the above title, which is part of a special issue of the Australian Entomologist printed in memory of the late Courtenay Smithers, who passed away last year. For many years, Courtenay was one of Australia's leading entomologists, particularly for those unfairly overlooked animals the bark-lice (non-parasitic Psocodea). An obituary for him can be found here.

We wanted to include this paper as a tribute to Courtenay, as it basically presents some identification work that he had done for us in the last few years. As some of you already know, we've been working for the last few years on surveying the terrestrial invertebrates of Barrow Island, off the north-west coast of Australia. Courtenay had first surveyed the bark-lice of Barrow back in 1982, when he collected only five species of Psocodea all up, including the cosmopolitan synanthrope Liposcelis entomophila (Smithers 1984). Because Barrow Island is a very arid habitat, with little to no standing fresh water, Courtenay felt that "The small size of the fauna is probably a reality not an illusion".

A cute litte critter from our collection that still only goes by the name of 'Pteroxanium sp. A'.

As it turns out, he was wrong. At least 26 species of Psocodea have been found on Barrow so far (the paper says 25, but we've had at least one more turn up since it was accepted for publication). Most of these have currently only been identified as morphospecies: identification of bark-lice is often a difficult task, and many Australian species probably remain undescribed (as an example, Courtenay's 1996 tally of the total described Australian Psocodea for the Zoological Catalogue of Australia includes less species of Liposcelididae than have been collected on Barrow Island alone). Three of the recorded species are synanthropes collected in buildings on the island; as far as we know, these species are not found in unmodified habitat. One of these, Dorypteryx domestica, was particularly interesting to me as it had not been recorded previously from Australia (and was my first real success at identifying a psocodean right down to species level, hurrah!), though Tim New (Australia's remaining bark-louse expert) informed us that its presence has always been expected. I have to say, while bark-lice in general are among the cutest of all insects, but the little jumping Dorypteryx really amps the cuteness right up there.

And here it is! (Photo from Gunawardene er al. 2012.) Dorypteryx domestica is probably found worldwide, but records are scattered because of its unassuming nature.

Unfortunately, Courtenay's passing highlights that a large proportion of taxonomic expertise currently resides in the minds of retired individuals (of the experts who have made identifications of material from the Barrow Island project, nearly a third were either retired or amateur taxonomists working in their spare time). There is no shortage of material out there, but we still need the people to tell us what it is.

Suspiciously posed-looking photo, used in Gunawardene et al. (2012), of yours truly supposedly demonstrating an insect collection method.


Smithers, C. N. 1984. The Psocoptera of Barrow and Boodie Islands, Western Australia. Entomologica Scandinavica 15: 215-226.

Smithers, C. N. 1996. Psocoptera. In: Wells, A. (ed.) Zoological Catalogue of Australia. Psocoptera, Phthiraptera, Thysanoptera pp. 1–79. CSIRO Publishing: Melbourne.


  1. Dorypteryx domestica is a cutie indeed!!

  2. Chris, can I get a PDF of this paper from you, please? BTW, Dorypteryx longipennis is in N.Z., see:

  3. No pdfs, sorry, but if you send a meatspace address to my e-mail (at top right of this page), I'm able to send one of those quaint old things known as reprints.

  4. Received ... many thanks


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