The full spectrum of tiger moths and harlequin bugs

We are part of a team that successfully secured an ARC Discovery project starting in 2019 which aims to account for variation in warning signals. The team is lead by Marie Herberstein (Macquarie Uni) and includes Nathan Hart (Macquarie Uni), Hannah Rowland (Max Planck), and Johanna Mappes (Uni of Jyvaskyla) and Kate!

Here is our 100 word summary:

Warning colours protect toxic prey from predators who learn to associate the colours with an unpleasant taste. Theoretically, warning colours should not vary, but in nature we find appreciable and unexplained variation. This presents a fundamental and unresolved biological problem - why do warning colours vary? This project will address this significant biological question by investigating how local environmental factors and predator communities affect warning colour expression across the Australian landscape. The project will utilise Australia's excellent environmental and biodiversity informatics infrastructure to inform the public and decision makers about the adaptability of animals to environmental change such as predator loss.

Harlequin bug,  Tectocoris diophthalmus  (left), tiger moth,  Amata annulata  (right).  Images from: and

Harlequin bug, Tectocoris diophthalmus (left), tiger moth, Amata annulata (right).

Images from: and

Our study species featured on the Australian Geographic blog "Creatura" by Bec Crew

We have had two interviews recently by Bec Crew! Check out the stories about two of our study systems here:

Why so blue? Unravelling colour change in the chameleon grasshopper:

These shocking insects are one of Australia's weirdest insects:

Startling ARC Success!

In the most recent funding round, Kate has secured a Discovery Early Career Researcher Award (DECRA)! This is exciting and will provide the opportunity to focus on startle displays for the next 3-4 years. This is the 100 word summary from the grant application:

Startle displays: a new route to resolving the aposematism paradox.

This project aims to propose an empirical evaluation of startle displays as the ‘missing link’ in antipredator defences. The evolutionary origin of warning colouration is considered paradoxical in that conspicuous mutant prey should be attacked and killed as they evolve, denying predators any chance to learn to avoid them. Startle displays, however, are antipredator defences that exploit predator reflexes through a sudden transition from camouflage to warning colouration. This work merges theory on antipredator defences, deepens knowledge of their fitness costs and benefits, and provides a new resolution to a classic evolutionary paradox.

Invertebrate Conservation workshop

We have received a small grant from the Urban Society and Living Theme at Western Sydney Uni to develop a team across Australia and New Zealand to promote the conservation of our endemic species. It's an exciting time as we move deeper into the world of science communication with Dr Tanya Latty, Dr Lizzy Lowe and Dr Chrissie Painting. 


Superstars of STEM

Kate is very excited to be named among Australia's 30 Superstars of STEM! This opportunity will see her running around the country promoting science! (Not really running). It's all over twitter - #SuperstarsofSTEM

More here:

Watch out for Finns this summer...

Summer is approaching us here in the Southern Hemisphere and in Australia, long days of sand and surf lie ahead. While enjoying summer activities, though, we all need to watch out for Finns. The Umbers Lab would like to report that we have knowledge of at least two Finns that will be visiting Sydney over the summer - Dr Janne Valkonen and Prof Johanna Mappes from the University of Jyväskylä. We are delighted to host them for exciting projects on Bandy Bandys, Mountain Katydids and extensive viticultural sampling. 

Prof Johanna Mappes

Prof Johanna Mappes

Dr Janne Valkonen

Dr Janne Valkonen

Paper accepted in Australian Field Ornithology (whaaaat?)

Image of Magpie dunking a, yep, you guessed it, mountain katydid. 

Image of Magpie dunking a, yep, you guessed it, mountain katydid. 

Here in the Umbers lab we dabble in ornithology occasionally, mostly because it's so easy. Subsequently, Eleanor Drinkwater, Julia Ryeland & Kate have had a paper on food dunking behaviour in the Australian Magpie accepted pending minor revision in Australian Field Ornithology. Congrats to Eleanor and Julia for driving this publication. Kate's afraid she might never live this down in the entomology circles. 

New lab logo

It's been many months in the making, but the Umbers lab finally has a lab logo!

Kate to give Seminar at UNSW

Kate will give a talk in the UNSW E&ERC Seminar Series at 3pm on Friday the 12th of August. It will be a katydid bonanza! 

mountain katydid Photo: Jordyn Crossley

mountain katydid Photo: Jordyn Crossley

New smartphone app for identifying insects in the Australian Alps

We are very excited to announce that you can now download our Alps Insects app for android! In collaboration with Rachael Slatyer, Nikolai Tatarnic and Ainsley Seago and with funding from the Norman Wettenhall Foundation we have produced a tool for identifying, recording and monitoring the insects of the Australian alps. This project was a dream of Rachael and Kate's since they started their PhDs in the mountains and we are delighted to see it come to fruition. We are currently looking for someone to write the code for iPhone, so apple users are fully equipped for their next alpine adventure too! 

New 3rd Year Science Project students

Welcome to Jordyn and Michael who will be joining us for their third year projects, working two highly charismatic  animals from the Australian Alps - the mountain katydid and the southern corroboree frog!

A displaying mountain katydid Photo: Jordyn Crossley

A displaying mountain katydid Photo: Jordyn Crossley

An attacked corroboree frog model Photo: Kate Umbers

An attacked corroboree frog model Photo: Kate Umbers

Success at ASSAB16

In July our lab led the organising committee for the 2016 meeting of the Australasian Society for the Study of Animal Behaviour ( in Katoomba. We had a Sydney-wide team that included us from Western Sydney Uni, Daniel Noble and Lisa Schwanz from UNSW, Julia Riley, James Baxter-Gilbert, Fonti Kar, Brigit Szabo, Ajay Narendra, Tom White, Marie Herberstein and Andrew Barron from Macquarie University, Ros Gloag from University of Sydney. We have lots of reports that suggest that the conference was enjoyed by all. Kate and Julia gave talks on the mountain katydid and Michael, Griffin, Julia and Darsh presented posters. Michael & Griffin's and Darsh's posters both came away with Best Poster prizes! 

Attendees at ASSAB 2016

Attendees at ASSAB 2016