Witchetty grubs

The Witchetty grub is one of the most famous items on the Aboriginal bush tucker menu.

witchetty grub

witchetty grub
Photographer: Sam Wiggington © Sam Wiggington

It’s a quirk of the English language that ‘grub’ can mean both food and the larva of certain insects. But these two meanings happily coincide when it comes to the Witchetty grub.

The Witchetty grub is one of the most famous items on the Aboriginal bush tucker menu. Similar grubs are found across Australia, but are they true Witchetty grubs?

The Witchetty grub is the larval stage (caterpillar) of a large cossid wood moth, Endoxyla leucomochla, and was called ‘witjuri’ by the Adnyamathanha people of South Australia’s Central Desert.

The larva eats into the woody roots of the Witchetty bush, Acacia kempeana, and feeds on the root sap. Aboriginal women and children dig around the roots of the plant to find the grubs, which are a rich source of protein.

To make things a little confusing, people have come to use the name 'Witchetty' for any fat, white, wood-boring grub, including those of other wood moths (Cossidae), swift moths (Hepialidae) and even longicorn beetles (Cerambycidae) in eastern Australia.

After pupating the wood moth emerges from its woody home as an adult moth, leaving behind its protective skin. The adult Witchetty Moth, Endoxyla leucomochla, lacks functional feeding organs. It lives for only a few days on fat reserves, breeding and then dying.


David Bock with Brendan Atkins
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