IT'S about seven millimetres long. It's a reddish brown colour. And it's destructive.
You won't know it's there until you crack open a beautiful piece of fresh fruit, grown with the sweat of your own brow, to find a maggoty mess inside.
Pest species the Queensland Fruit Fly has snuck into central Victoria in the past few years. It's now found in the backyards of almost every Bendigo suburb.
The fly's work is set to be particularly bad this year, after a warm wet summer created conditions perfect for the insect to thrive.
But small community groups are taking up their nets to battle the destructive fly.
Read more: Fruit fly battle resumes as weather warms
They say whole-community effort is vital to controlling the spread of the pest.
Bendigo Community Fruit chair Nicole Porter has urged the entire community to be aware of the importance of controlling the Queensland Fruit Fly.
[Backyard gardeners] have either got to do something now, or eat maggots.Nicole Porter
Ms Porter was inspired to action after finding maggots in her own backyard fruit about four years ago.
It was "horrible and frustrating" at first, but Ms Porter has since learnt what steps to take to prevent it.
Now the fly is not eliminated - it remains a risk - but Ms Porter enjoys her fruit, maggot free.
Since its establishment Bendigo Community Fruit has worked to share fruit fly prevention techniques, under the auspices of the Bendigo Regional Food Alliance.
Last year it began a program to help people save their crops from fruit fly, in exchange for a donation of the harvest to Foodshare.
The group will prune the trees, then net them with a fine mesh. Later they harvest the fruit and give excess to Foodshare.
It's a communal effort, with a social cup of tea and cake after pruning.
Ms Porter said last summer the group donated about 150 kilograms of fruit, from about six households.
She urged people to manage the their own yard, to prevent the Queensland Fruit Fly spreading even further.
The tiny invader can destroy everything from apples, to apricots, bananas to blackberries, capsicums to cherries, and so on.
Ms Porter said people were already reporting maggots in their grapefruits and citrus.
"This year it will be worse. What they really like is the wet and warm conditions, because they're a tropical pest," Ms Porter said.
"[Backyard gardeners] have either got to do something now, or eat maggots."
Read more: Bendigo gardeners battle fruit fly attack
Wet and warm spring weather means conditions are perfect for the Queensland Fruit Fly this summer.
Agriculture Victoria has urged gardeners to treat their gardens, saying it will be crucial this season.
The insects are most active between September and May.
Gardeners may not know they have the fly until they discover creamy maggots five to 10 millimetres long in the centre of their fruit.
Agriculture Victoria statewide fruit fly coordinator Cathy Mansfield said gardeners should search their gardens to see if the pest was present before the weather heated up.
Ms Mansfield urged anyone with infested fruit to dispose of it by putting it in the sun for at least seven days, in a sealed plastic bag to destroy eggs and maggots. Infested fruit should not go directly into the compost, she said.
For prevention, Ms Porter said netting had proved the most effective method, because sprays and traps needed ongoing maintenance.
She said the only trick was to put the net on after fruit flowers had been pollinated, because it would also keep out bees.
For the Bendigo gardener starting out on the fruit fly fight, Ms Porter said the first step was to get a Queensland Fruit Fly monitoring trap, to gauge the scale of the problem.
It might be too late for Bendigo to avoid widespread fruit fly, but parts of central Victoria are fly free and hope to remain so.
For Harcourt resident Terry Willis it's about staving off what might be inevitable.
Mr Willis was began the Harcourt Fruit Fly Action Group member when he realised there was a risk of the pest infesting the valley.
Historically the town has had a few scattered cases, but it's not been widespread.
It's a contrast to Mr Willis's previous home of Tocumwal, where the problem was so bad he could not even grow tomatoes or capsicum.
Mr Willis knew he would want to leave Harcourt if he had to live like that. He said that the area's long fruit growing history meant it was at particular risk, with old trees in every paddock.
So Mr Willis formed a sub-committee of the Harcourt Landcare when a chance came up to apply for grant funding to protect the area.
The group has mailed every Harcourt resident, as well as giving away monitoring traps and running awareness stalls at the local farmers markets.
The council has also taken out wild fruit trees along the roadside, in support of the efforts.
Mr Willis said fruit from areas that have the fly - such as Bendigo - was the biggest threat to Harcourt pest free status.
He urged the community to protect their town with the three Ps - prune, so trees are a nettable height, pick up fallen fruit, and protect with monitoring traps or incursion netting.
Simple tips to protect your garden from fruit fly
- Pick fruit and vegetables as they ripen
- Dispose of unwanted fruit and scraps carefully
- Monitor your garden for fruit fly
- Net or bag trees and plants
- Use baits, traps and insect control
More at: bit.ly/3mC2bsF
Find out more about Bendigo control efforts at: facebook.com/groups/Bendigoregionfruitfly/
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