Field of Science


Many of you may know thrips as small insects that infest buds and young shoots of garden plants, stymieing growth and causing malformed development. However, there is also a wide diversity of thrips species that feed on fungi, inhabiting leaf litter and other fallen vegetation. In tropical and subtropical regions of the world, one of the more numerous genera of such fungus-feeders is Psalidothrips.

Winged female (left) and wingless male of Psalidothrips comosus, from Zhao et al. (2018).

Close to fifty species of Psalidothrips have been described from various locations around the world (Wang et al. 2019). They are most commonly found among leaf litter and are believed to feed on fungal hyphae. Most Psalidothrips are relatively small, pale thrips, yellowish or light brown in coloration. As members of the family Phlaeothripidae, the last segment of the abdomen is modified into a tube ending in a ring of setae; in Psalidothrips, this tube is commonly short and the terminal setae are often longer than the tube.

As is common among thrips, the recognition of Psalidothrips and its constituent species is often complicated by within-species variation. Many species are known as both winged and wingless forms (Wang et al., 2019, note that Australian species seem particularly prone to winglessness). Wingless forms often show reductions in the sclerotisation of the thorax. It is difficult to name a single feature of the genus that does not find exception in some species or other. Most species are weakly sculpted. For the most part, the maxillary stylets are short and sit low and far apart in the head when retracted. The mouth-cone is similarly short and rounded. The head is often fairly short with rounded cheeks that do not bear strong setae. Setae on the anterior margin of the pronotum are often reduced. The wings, if present, are often more or less constricted at about mid-length. Many phlaeothripids possess a series of large setae on the abdomen that hold the wings in place when folded back; in individuals of Psalidothrips with such setae (obviously, they tend to disappear in wingless individuals), they are often relatively few in number and simply curved.

Many of these features are related to the thrips' litter-dwelling habits. The short mouthparts, for instance, presumably reflect how these thrips are gleaning fungi from the surface of leaves without needing to pierce the leaf's cuticle. As such, it will be interesting to see how the genus holds out as our understanding of thrips phylogeny improves. Is this a true evolutionarily coherent assemblage, or disparate travellers who are following a fashion?


Wang, J., L. A. Mound & D. J. Tree. 2019. Leaf-litter thrips of the genus Psalidothrips (Thysanoptera, Phlaeothripidae) from Australia, with fifteen new species. Zootaxa 4686 (1): 53–73.

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