Aussie woman stumped by 'weird-looking things' at dog park

The woman was both transfixed and confused by the cluster of grubs.

Australia is full of unique and wonderful wildlife and the chances of coming across something unexpected, or unheard of, are high.

Last week, a woman living in the Southern Tablelands of NSW did exactly that when taking her dog for a walk.

Spotting a large cluster of "weird-looking" grubs on the ground at Victoria Park, Goulburn, in the off-leash area, she was both alarmed and confused.

"Does anyone know what they are and if they are dangerous or harmless?," she asked on the community Facebook page.

A photo of a cluster of sawfly larvae nicknamed spitfires which were spotted at Victoria Park. Another photo of ones found on a tree in someone's backyard in the neighbourhood.
The cluster of sawfly larvae (left) nicknamed spitfires were spotted at Victoria Park, while the ones on the tree (right) were found in someone's backyard in the neighbourhood. Source: Facebook

Cluster identified as sawfly larvae

The black, hairy grubs with yellow tips are known as the larvae of the native sawfly species, which feed on eucalypts and are often found in large groups on branches, or on the ground during the day.

They are also colloquially known as 'spitfires' despite not actually spitting. The nickname does however describe a common observed behaviour, which Associate Professor of Biology, Dr Darrell J Kemp, explains.

"If disturbed they whip themselves around and regurgitate their foregut contents (usually a soupy mess of part-digested eucalypt foliage). That’s nasty enough to deter most predators I guess," he previously told Yahoo News Australia.

Now that spring has sprung, the adult sawflies which are commonly seen in southeast Australia, will "emerge, mate and lay their eggs in eucalypt leaves and the life cycle will start again".

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Not dangerous, just 'irritating'

The larvae will grow into wasps with four wings, without a stinger, according to the Australian Museum, and are not threatening to humans.

"Spitfires are completely harmless to humans and animals," one person said in the comments of the Facebook post. However the liquid they secrete can be irritating to the skin or eyes — something several said they experienced first-hand.

"Us primary school kids at Heckenberg were all screaming and itchy... our worse nightmare," one local reflected. "Definitely don’t touch them," another said.

In response, the woman who saw them said she "will keep [her] dogs away if [she] sees them again".

The larvae of sawflies can cause damage to the foliage of young trees, and can strip the branches of foliage, particularly at the tops. However leaf growth in the spring and summer usually replaces it, and it's quite rare to lead to the tree being fully destroyed.

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