Spitfire Caterpillar: Essential Facts and Care Tips

The Spitfire Caterpillar is a fascinating creature that might have caught your attention due to its unique appearance. These caterpillars can be found in your yard, feeding on leaves and eventually transforming into moths. With an elongated and cylindrical body, they possess a well-developed head and chewing type mouthparts, making them quite intriguing to observe.

As you may encounter various types of caterpillars in your garden, it’s essential to understand their life cycle and habits. For instance, the Redhumped Caterpillar goes through four stages of development: egg, larva (caterpillar), pupa, and adult (moth) Caterpillars in Your Yard and Garden. When it comes to the Hickory Tussock Moth Caterpillar, the adult moths fly during May-June, while caterpillars are present from July to September Hickory Tussock Moth Caterpillar. Familiarizing yourself with these life cycles will help you better appreciate and coexist with these interesting insects in your garden.

Overview of Spitfire Caterpillar

Spitfire caterpillars are fascinating creatures you might come across in your backyard or during a nature walk. They are the larvae of a certain type of sawfly and are known for their unique defense mechanism: spraying a distasteful liquid from their mouths when threatened, hence the name “spitfire.”

These caterpillars can be easily identified by their physical characteristics. The most notable features include:

  • Prolegs: Unlike some other caterpillars, spitfire caterpillars have multiple pairs of fleshy, small legs called prolegs, which help them move efficiently.
  • Legs: Apart from prolegs, they also possess three pairs of true legs near the head.
  • Eyes: Although not easily visible, they have simple eyes called ocelli to detect light and dark.
  • Antennae: You’ll find a pair of short antennae on their head for sensing their environment.

Spitfire caterpillars, like other larvae, undergo metamorphosis as they grow. They eventually turn into sawflies, a type of insect resembling a wasp or a bee. However, sawflies are harmless and don’t possess a stinger. While wandering in nature, always treat these fascinating creatures with respect and caution, since they may defend themselves using their unpleasant spray if disturbed.

Habitat and Distribution

You may find the Spitfire Caterpillar mostly in Australia, specifically in Queensland. These caterpillars are generally drawn to eucalyptus leaves on gumtree or shrub environments. The soil where these trees grow can vary, but they all provide the essential nutrients and support for the caterpillars to thrive.

For example, when you spot these caterpillars in the wild, you will often see them:

  • Feeding on eucalyptus leaves
  • Seeking shelter in gumtrees or nearby shrubs
  • Moving around different trees according to their preferred habitat

If you’re interested in observing Spitfire Caterpillars or understanding their distribution better, remember that they commonly reside in Queensland, Australia. Keep an eye out for gumtrees, shrubs, and eucalyptus leaves, as these are their habitat preferences. As you explore, you’ll appreciate the unique characteristics and features of this fascinating caterpillar species.

Life Cycle of a Spitfire Caterpillar

Spitfire caterpillars are actually the larvae of sawflies, not butterflies or moths. Sawflies are closely related to wasps, but they don’t sting. Their life cycle is fascinating and quite different from moths and butterflies. Let’s dive into the life cycle of a spitfire caterpillar.

Eggs: In the spring, female sawflies lay their fertile eggs on host plants, like eucalyptus trees. The eggs are carefully placed on the underside of leaves, providing a safe and hidden spot for them. It doesn’t take long for these eggs to hatch, usually within just a few days.

Larvae: Once they’ve hatched, the sawfly larvae – aka spitfire caterpillars – start to feed on the host plant. As they grow, they will pass through several stages, known as instars. Each instar is larger and hungrier, causing them to eat even more of the host plant’s foliage.

During this time, you might notice that spitfire caterpillars have a unique defense mechanism. They can regurgitate a bitter, irritating liquid from their mouths to deter predators. This is how they get their nickname “spitfire.” Eventually, after rapid growth and several instars, spitfire caterpillars are now ready to pupate and complete their life cycle.

Pupation: When it’s time to pupate, spitfire caterpillars leave their host plant and seek a suitable spot in the soil or leaf litter. They form a cocoon, which is a protective casing where they will undergo a significant metamorphosis.

Adult Sawflies: After a few weeks, adult sawflies emerge from their cocoons. These sawflies are now ready to mate and start the entire process over again. The adult sawflies are harmless and don’t sting, feeding mainly on plant nectar.

In summary, the life cycle of a spitfire caterpillar includes four main stages: egg, larva, pupa, and adult. Their fascinating life cycle, combined with unique defense strategies, make them an intriguing insect to observe.

Unique Features of a Spitfire Caterpillar

Spitfire caterpillars are quite interesting due to their various unique features. One of the most noticeable features is the white hairs that cover their bodies. These hairs serve as a protective mechanism, deterring predators from eating them.

Another interesting characteristic of Spitfire caterpillars is their silk production. They use silk to create nests, where they reside with other Spitfire caterpillars. These nests provide a safe environment, protecting them from potential threats.

As the name suggests, Spitfire caterpillars have an impressive defense strategy. When they feel threatened, they can regurgitate a foul-smelling liquid. This liquid not only repels predators but also serves as a warning to others of their species.

So, next time you come across a Spitfire caterpillar, remember to appreciate the fascinating features they possess, including their distinctive white hairs, silk production capabilities, and impressive defense mechanisms. And most importantly, keep a safe distance to avoid experiencing their unpleasant regurgitation firsthand.

Spitfire Caterpillar – Threats and Predators

Spitfire caterpillars may seem intimidating due to their defensive mechanisms, but they still face some natural threats and predators. In general, you can observe the following predators trying to attack these caterpillars:

  • Birds: Some birds are known to prey on caterpillars, including spitfires. They adapt to handle the irritating bristles of their prey and gain a nutritious meal as well.
  • Wasps: Various species of wasps also target caterpillars. Both common wasps and parasitic wasps benefit from preying on them directly or indirectly.

Here’s a comparison table highlighting the primary predators:

Predator Type Feeding Behavior
Birds Vertebrate Directly consuming caterpillars
Wasps Invertebrate Directly or indirectly targeting caterpillars

You should note that these natural predators serve an essential role in maintaining the balance in ecosystems where spitfire caterpillars and other lepidopteran species reside. When it comes to the survival of the fittest, spitfire caterpillars have evolved to develop their unique defensive mechanisms, while their predators have adapted to prey upon them effectively.

By being aware of the threats and predators faced by spitfire caterpillars, you can better understand their behavior and importance within their native environments.

The Role of Spitfire Caterpillar in the Ecosystem

Spitfire caterpillars are a fascinating part of our ecosystem. While many people might see them as pests, they actually play a crucial role in maintaining the health and balance of their environment. Here, we’ll explore the role of the Spitfire Caterpillar in the ecosystem.

Spitfire caterpillars feed primarily on the leaves of milkweed plants. This not only helps control the growth of these plants, but also creates habitats for other insects by opening up shaded areas. Their feeding activities can also stimulate new plant growth, promoting biodiversity and creating more attractive environments for various species to thrive.

As they munch on milkweed plants, Spitfire caterpillars indirectly help other species which rely on these plants as well. Their feeding habits break down tough plant material, making it more accessible for other insects and animals. Additionally, their presence in the ecosystem makes them an important food source for many predators, such as birds and small mammals.

In the grand scheme of the ecosystem, Spitfire caterpillars can be seen as a vital link in the food chain. And while their role may seem small and insignificant, the truth is that our ecosystems rely on creatures like them to maintain balance and promote biodiversity. So, the next time you encounter a Spitfire caterpillar, remember that they are a key member of your local ecosystem, helping to foster a vibrant and diverse environment for all to enjoy.

Reader Emails

Over the years, our website, whatsthatbug.com has received hundreds of letters and some interesting images asking us about these insects. Scroll down to have a look at some of them.

Letter 1 – Spitfire from Australia


Subject: Sawfly larva identification
Location: East Gippsland, Victoria, Australia
January 14, 2017 11:05 pm
Hello. I am wondering if you can help with the identification of this interesting creature? I think it is a sawfly, family Pergidae, subfamily Perginae (I am happy to be corrected :)), but can’t get any further than that. It was spotted in mid-January, smack-bang in the middle of our Australian summer. It was approximately 2 inches long and moving alone along a fence rail. Nearby trees included two different species of eucalypt and and a she-oak.
Any insights you have would be greatly appreciated. Thanks bug guys! 🙂
Signature: Jacinta Richardson


Dear Jacinta,
This is indeed a Sawfly Larva, and in Australia they are known as Spitfires because of the posture they assume when they are disturbed.  We have a group of similar looking Spitfires in our archives.  Based on information on the Australian Museum site, we believe your identification is correct, but we are unable to provide a conclusive species name at this time.


Hi Daniel
Thank you so much for your response. I will keep researching and if I find any additional information I will let you know. I’ll also check back in case other viewers have further insights.
Thanks again. I love the site!


Letter 2 – Spitfire Grub from Australia


Unknown Australian Caterpillar
Subject: Unknown Australian Caterpillar
Location: Seaford, Victoria, Australia
May 9, 2011 8:56 pm
We found this caterpillar in a tree in our garden, in late summer. It moves really slow and has the strangest extra ”leg” at the end of it’s body which it uses to hold on to things. It’s about an inch long.
Signature: Kyle Horne

Spitfire Grub

Dear Kyle,
Your mistaking this insect for a Caterpillar is quite understandable, but it is actually the larva of a Sawfly, a nonstinging relative of bees and wasps.  We were unable to find an exact color match for your Sawfly larva on the Brisbane Insect website, however it very closely resembles the members of the subfamily Perginae, the Spitfire Sawflies whose larvae are called Spitfire Grubs.

Hey thanks Daniel, that was really quick! I have another bug I’d like to identify and will send through the pics and description tomorrow.
Thanks again
Kyle Horne

Letter 3 – Spitfires from Australia


Subject: Disgusting looking critters…please help identify
Location: Melbourne, Laverton VIC footpath into Laverton P12 College
September 2, 2016 3:06 am
Was walking along Bladin Rd Melbourne VIC and saw this ‘clump’ just on footpath leading into Laverton College. A staff who has been there for last 27years said they are caterpillars but i am still curious if they really are caterpollars. Apparently they seemed to have come from the eucalypt tree near footpath.
Signature: Curious


Dear Curious,
These are Spitfires, a name used in Australia for the larvae of Sawflies, non-stinging relatives of bees and wasps whose larvae are often confused with caterpillars.  Based on the image used on the Australian Museum site, they may be Steel Blue Sawflies in the genus
Perga, and the site states:  “Steel-blue Sawfly larvae in the Sydney area feed on eucalypts.”


  • Bugman

    Bugman aka Daniel Marlos has been identifying bugs since 1999. whatsthatbug.com is his passion project and it has helped millions of readers identify the bug that has been bugging them for over two decades. You can reach out to him through our Contact Page.

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  • Piyushi Dhir

    Piyushi is a nature lover, blogger and traveler at heart. She lives in beautiful Canada with her family. Piyushi is an animal lover and loves to write about all creatures.

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