Eucalypt sawflies

Eucalypt sawflies are also known as clustering sawflies or spitfires. The larvae are often seen in clumps on stems. When disturbed, they raise their tails and regurgitate a yellowish fluid as a defensive mechanism, hence the common name ‘spitfires’.

The adult sawfly is wasp-like in appearance and cannot sting, but is rarely observed. The larvae and the damage they cause are more commonly seen.

Scientific name

Perga species
Pergagrapta species

Other names

  • Clustering sawflies
  • Spitfires


  • Sawfly larvae:
    • are similar to caterpillars with 3 pairs of legs
    • may be covered in short bristles
    • are tan to dark brown or black with a black head and a yellow to orange clasper at the tip of the tail, or light green with a black head and an orange clasper
    • are often seen in clumps of 10 or more on stems during the day
    • disperse and feed at night
    • when disturbed, raise their tails and regurgitate a yellowish fluid as a defensive mechanism.
  • Adults can be up to 60mm long, are wasp-like in appearance and cannot sting, but are rarely observed.


Native to Australia and widespread across eucalypt forests and plantations from temperate to subtropical zones.


Sawflies have a wide host range including Eucalyptus, Melaleuca and Callistemon species.


  • Damage to host trees is caused during the larval stage. The adult stage does not feed.
  • Larvae are usually restricted to a small number of trees within a plantation and will often defoliate whole individual trees.
  • Defoliation is common in plantations with establishing trees up to 6 years old. However, widespread defoliation is rarely observed.
  • Single defoliation is unlikely to cause issues in establishing trees.
  • Continued and extensive defoliation may lead to reduced vigour and undesirable form.
  • Sustained defoliation may lead to tree mortality in rare instances.


  • The adult female sawfly lays eggs in slits made between the upper and lower surface of a leaf or in tree bark. The slits are cut using a specialised ovipositor on the female’s abdomen.
  • Eggs can take up to 2 months to hatch. Adults of some species guard the eggs until hatching.
  • The larvae undergo 6 developmental stages. Each stage lasts 3–4 months.
  • Young larvae graze leaf surfaces at first. When large enough, they eat entire leaves.
  • At maturity, larvae pupate in the soil, or within wood or bark. Adults emerge sporadically.
  • Male sawflies are uncommon; females can produce eggs without mating.
  • Adult sawflies do not feed.


  • Control is not usually necessary.
  • Eggs are preyed on by small birds.
  • Larvae are preyed on by larger birds at all life stages. Larvae are also parasitised by wasp species and tachinid flies.

Resources and research