Australian Pests – Spitfire Sawfly

I thought that it might be an interesting idea to post about the various pests and insects that I find around my garden and throughout my bonsai. We have some very curious varieties down under, so I thought that I might just share a few.

Today I’m writing about the Spitfire Sawfly. I have a lot of memories of these little buggers from my childhood, as I used to see them around a lot (mainly the larvae). Back then, I believed that the name implied that they literally spat fire or poison at you, and I remember constantly being cauitous when walking under tree’s, in fear that a pack of them might fall on my head spitting fire at me! They group together for protection, so you can find 30 to 40 of them all huddled together (frequently in tree’s), so the fear of them falling on my head was at least not entirely imagined.

This posts stems from a more recent experience I’ve had with them (and continue to), in which they managed to possibly wipe out one of my tree’s, and force me to trunk chop another. I will know in a few more days whether the first tree is truely lost or if it might spring back. It is strange in that the tree they attacked the least, is the one dying, but I’ve checked it out thoroughly and cannot see anything else that could have caused it, other then a few munched leaves.


In the picture to the left you can see the aftermath of a munched leaf. From what I’ve read, the juvenile larvae will strip a leaf, but as the grow, they will eat the whole thing and leave nothing left over (leaf nothing leafed over? Sorry… Couldn’t resist :P).





This next picture is just a shot of the top portion of the tree, showing a bit more of the damage. Sorry for the pictures, they were taken from my phone, at night, while watering, so are not the best. They almost stripped this tree bare, leaving only a few leaves on a couple of branches, however I’m confident it will bounce back.



Next is where things get confusing for me. I’ve read up on Spitfires, and
for the life of me, I cannot find anywhere that states they wrap themselves in leaves. The eggs are buried and the cocoons are either underground, or under the bark…. so this is a strange one. I will attempt to find out the answer, and update if I find one.


As you can see in the next picture, when I opened up the leaf, it was filled with larvae (note, these are not caterpillars, but the larvae of a wasp/fly… a relative of the wasp). This tells me it isn’t a cocoon, as I believe cocoons are made by each larvae individually. So it is a tough one, I will have to find myself an entomologist. They are definitely Spitfire Sawfly’s, but I would like to know what kind specifically.

4You can understand my fears of them dropping on my head now can’t you? 😛

Just be mindful with your bonsai, they should focus on larger native trees in the area (if you have them) and will tend to go after Eucalyptus and Corymbia mainly, but there are varieties that will go after other natives like Melaleuca’s and Callistemon’s.

If you are finding them a problem, then you can use chemicals to kill them, however it is much more practical (and better on the environment) to simply remove them by hand. The ‘fire’ that they spit is mainly just eucalyptus oil which might cause a minor irritation, so maybe wack on the gloves if you’re worried.

Hope you enjoyed my battle in the garden, and whilst I want to say I wish there will be no more, I do enjoy finding these things and figuring them out… and not to mention sharing them with you!

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