A recently digitised album of watercolours by former Museum curator Gerard Krefft includes drawings of jewel beetles and flower chafers.

Calling all Krefftonians! The State Library of NSW has digitised an album of watercolours by eccentric former director Gerard Krefft and made them available online.

Many of the 36 paintings date from the 1857 Blandowski expedition which took Krefft to the Murray and Darling rivers. The paintings show various native animals – quolls, wombats, kangaroos, stick-nest rats and other marsupials – along with many studies of Aboriginals.

Two of the paintings show insects, and we asked Museum entomologist Dr Chris Reid whether he could identify them. ‘These are drawings of jewel beetles and flower chafers, two groups of beetles which are found on flowers, particularly of eucalypts’, Chris said.

Jewel beetles by Gerard Krefft
Jewel beetles by Gerard Krefft Jewel beetles (family Buprestidae). The largest specimen is Temognatha grandis, a local Sydney species. The belong to the genera Temognatha and Castiarina. Image: unknown
© State Library of New South Wales

‘My gut feeling is to skip the jewel beetles . . . there are so many species with these sorts of colour patterns. In fact, the Museum has a vast collection [of jewel beetles] housed in 93 drawers!

'The largest specimen in this drawing [above right] is Temognatha grandis, a local Sydney species, and the others seem to belong to the genera Temognatha and Castiarina.’

However, Chris was able to put names on nearly all of the flower chafers (sub-family Cetoniinae, see illustration below). ‘The drawings are anatomically pretty good’, he said. ‘They could all have been collected in the Sydney area, but are unlikely to be associated with the Blandowski expedition.’

Fower chafer illustraitions by Krefft
Flower chafers (subfamily Cetoniinae). top row, L–R: Trichaulax philippsi, ?Polystigma octopunctum, Schizorrhina atropunctata (male), Schizorrhina atropunctata (female) (note difference in length of hind legs). Bottom row, L–R: ?Aphanesthes gymnopleura, Diaphonia dorsalis, Micropoecila cincta, ?Dilochrosis atripennis. [? indicates tentative identification]. Illustration by Gerard Krefft Image: unknown
© Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales

He said that two of the genera, Schizorrhina and Trichaulax, are only collected quite rarely. ‘All of the species were described by the 1860s, so this drawing is unlikely to have been drawn for a taxonomic study. It might have been a practice drawing or for an illustrated study of conspicuous Sydney insects.’

Chris doubts that the Museum holds any of the insect specimens Krefft used in making the illustrations, which are undated. ‘It’s very unlikely that any of the specimens survived – we don’t seem to have anything dated before 1885 [Krefft died in 1881] and the old stuff was almost entirely accessioned only as “old collection” in the 1910s’, Chris said.

The digitised collection provides another online resource for those Krefftonians wanting to know more about this colourful polymath from the Museum’s past. You can view the entire album of Krefft watercolours at the State Library of NSW website here.