A neighbor posted a photo of an insect on my town’s Facebook group asking, “Does anyone know what this is? There are several in our backyard. They can jump 3 to 4 feet really fast.”
The first response was clear: “Kill them all. Spotted lanternfly. They need to be destroyed.”
Others chimed in with “Eliminate,” “Kill it,” and a chorus of “Save the trees. Kill them.”
My town’s fairly broadminded. One person remarked, “Had any of you ever taken the time to get to know a spotted lanternfly? I mean to really get to know one. For such a progressive town, you’re really not giving them a fair chance.”
To tell you the truth, I have a hard time killing things. If a spider gets inside my home, I scoop it up in a cup and take it outside. I would never kill a spider. Lanternflies are different.
Don’t be deceived by their beauty
The nymphs (young insects) with black and white spots are about ¼ inch and have no wings. As they grow, they increase in size to about ½ inch and are bright red with black stripes and white spots. The adults, about 1 inch in size, are gray with black spots of varying sizes. The tips of their wings have black spots outlined in gray and patches of red and black cover their hind wings. Their abdomen is yellow with black bands.
I spotted one outside my window. It’s red color looked like a felt petticoat. It was so attractive that I understand why someone would not want to kill it.
Adults fly; however, most tend to hop and jump. When they glide, they expose that beautiful bright red color.
How Lanternflies breed
Lanternflies lay eggs from early September through December. Each egg mass holds between 30 and 50 eggs. These muddy looking egg masses can be found on tree bark, rocks, lawn furniture, firewood, boats, RV’s, and most things left outside. What’s worse, if it’s attached to a vehicle, you can transport them to other areas. If you spot an egg mass, which should be about one inch in size, squish it.
The egg masses on trees are about 10 feet above ground. First laid egg masses are light gray and turn tan as they age. Once hatched, these egg masses lose their coverings and you can see eggs that resemble seeds.
An invasive species
Native to China, India, and Vietnam, spotted lanternflies have made their way to South Korea, Japan, and the United States. The first reported sighting in the U.S. was in 2014 in Berks County, PA. Since then, spotted lanternflies settled in New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia, New York, Connecticut, Ohio, Maine, and other states.
In their native lands, they are not a problem because natural predators keep them in check. One of those natural predators is a tiny wasp (Dryinus browni) that kills the spotted lanternfly. (It’s scientific name is Lycorma delicatula.) Here, the spotted lanternfly is an invasive species.
“Most insect pests have a limited number of plants on which they feed,” Dennis Calvin, director at Penn State Extension and associate dean of the College of Agricultural Sciences, says. “Plus they tend to stay in one location. These factors are favorable for an effective integrated pest management program.”
“The spotted lanternfly feeds and moves continuously. It has an insatiable appetite for the sap of more than 70 types of fruit and landscape trees, grapevines, and woody ornamental plants. Plus, it’s a rolling stone; it never stays in one spot for very long.”
Lanternflies can cause economic destruction
Not eradicating the spotted lanternfly could cost the state of Pennsylvania upwards of $324 million annually and cause the loss of 2,800 jobs. “The spotted lanternfly has already inflicted millions of dollars in damage to our state’s agriculture and forestry industries,” Jayson Harper, Ph.D., professor of agricultural economics and director of Penn State’s Fruit Research and Extension Center, explains. (Other states are experiencing similar economic losses.)
To limit the spread of the spotted lanternfly, Penn State received a $7.3 million grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture. The funding supports an interdisciplinary, multi-institutional taskforce focused on developing strategies to combat the spotted lanternfly.
Scientists at Penn State are working with 37 collaborating researchers and extension educators including the USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) Agricultural Research Service, the USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, Virginia Tech, the University of Delaware, the University of Rhode Island, Temple University, Rutgers University, Cornell University, and the Northeastern IPM (Integrated Pest Management) Center.
Matching grants from growers and landowners total more than $5 million. Many of these growers and landowners are working with the researchers.
Native U.S. predators
The praying mantis and (my friend) the spider destroy spotted lanternflies. The only problem is there are too many spotted lanternflies for these helpful insects to control.
Currently entomologists at Penn State are studying native birds that may feast upon spotted lanternflies. “Because the spotted lanternfly is a non-native insect, it doesn’t have natural enemies in the U.S. to keep its numbers in balance,” said Kelli Hoover, Ph.D., professor of entomology in Penn State’s College of Agricultural Sciences. “Finding predators that live in our environment would be a great biological control option and useful in guiding management practices.”
Working alongside Hoover is Anne Johnson, a doctoral candidate in entomology. “If we can find native species that will prey on spotted lanternflies and ways to encourage this behavior, then we can use these species in control programs,” she explains. “To help with this, more information about the types of birds and their feeding behaviors is crucial to know.”
To help with their study and to control the spotted lanternfly population, they are turning to citizen scientists—mainly birders to help with a program that’s somewhat similar to the National Audubon Society’s annual Christmas Bird Count.
In this case, birders will post reports, videos, and photographs of birds they see eating spotted lanternflies; they’ll also post where and when they’ve seen these birds. To participate, email firstname.lastname@example.org. In addition, there’s a Facebook page called “Birds, Biting Bad Bugs” with information about this project.
Friendly look-alike insects
It’s quite possible to confuse one bug with another. Some look-alikes include the Figured Tiger Moth, the Giant Leopard Moth, and Bella Moths. These insects all have spots and similar colorings to the spotted lanternfly. Many look-alikes aren’t harmful and should be left alone. Here’s a guide to these and other look-alikes.
Stomp, swat, and take action
Spotted lanternflies won’t bite or sting you. If you see one, report it to your state’s Department of Agricultural, Department of Environmental Conservation, or local town government. You can also:
- Stomp on it. Swat it. Crush it.
- The New Jersey Department of Agriculture recommends scraping egg masses with a credit card off trees and other surfaces. This will destroy the eggs.
- Place sticky tree bands around the trunk of your trees. You can find them at local garden centers.
By this time, you shouldn’t feel bad about killing spotted lanternflies. These invasive insects are the enemy.