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The Spotted Lanternfly: A Colorful Invader Wreaking Havoc On American Forests and Crops

Imagine a bug so destructive that it has the potential to devastate crops and forests, affecting not only the natural beauty of an area but also the livelihoods of those who depend on them. This bug is not a figment of one’s imagination, but a real-life invader known as the spotted lanternfly. It has already caused millions of dollars in damage since its arrival in the United States a few years ago.



What is the spotted lanternfly?

The spotted lanternfly (Lycorma delicatula) is an invasive species of planthopper. It originates from China, India, and Vietnam. It was first detected in the United States in Berks County, Pennsylvania, in 2014. Since then, it has spread to several other states, including Connecticut, Delaware, Indiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Rhode Island, Virginia, and West Virginia. The bug is a serious threat to agriculture and forestry. It feeds on the sap of various trees and plants. This causes extensive damage and weakens the plants.


What does the spotted lanternfly eat?

The spotted lanternfly poses a threat to a wide range of crops and trees. Mostly fruit trees, grapevines, hardwoods, and pine trees. The feeding habits of the insect can cause wilting, dieback, and defoliation of the affected plants. Which in turn leads to a significant decrease in yield and overall health of the plant. Additionally, the spotted lanternfly excretes a sticky residue known as honeydew. Honeydew attracts other insects and can lead to the growth of sooty mold, further reducing the health of the plant.


Are Spotted Lanternflies Dangerous:

Spotted lanternflies are dangerous not because they harm humans or pets, but due to their potential to cause extensive agricultural and ecological damage.


How do the Spotted Lanternfly spread?

The spotted lanternfly can fly long distances (up to several miles in some instances) making it a formidable invader. The range of its flight is affected by various factors such as wind, temperature, and the availability of suitable habitats. Still, the primary mode of its spread is through human assistance. It clings to vehicles, machinery, or infested materials, such as the tree of heaven (Ailanthus altissima) and other host plants, as well as outdoor recreational items like camping gear, vehicles, and firewood. This speeds the spread of the spotted lanternfly. It is crucial to take measures to prevent the movement of these items to control the spread of the insect. And hopefully, to ultimately minimize its impact on the environment and economy.


How to Get Rid of the Spotted Lanternfly:

There are three main ways to get rid of the spotted Lanternfly; Quarantine, Natural Predators, and Tree Warps. 

Quarantine: Several measures have been implemented by state and federal agencies to combat the spread of the spotted lanternfly. These include quarantine regulations to restrict the movement of infested materials. Pennsylvania has gone as far as implementing a spotted lanternfly permit program. The program requires businesses and individuals to obtain a permit before transporting regulated articles in and out of the quarantine zones.

Natural predators: States are also releasing natural predators to reduce populations of insects. One such predator is the praying mantis, which ambushes its prey with lightning-fast strikes of its powerful front legs. Chickens are another common predator of the spotted lanternfly. They will often peck at and consume the insects. Garden spiders, also known as orb weavers, spin webs that can trap and immobilize the spotted lanternfly. Making it an easy meal. Gray catbirds are another type of predator that feed on the spotted lanternfly. They use their sharp beaks to catch the insect and their strong jaws to crush it. Yellowjackets (a type of wasp) are also known to prey on the spotted lanternfly. The wheel bug, a type of predatory insect, is another predator of the spotted lanternfly. Garter snakes hunt the spotted lanternfly by waiting patiently for it to land on a branch or leaf. At which point they will quickly strike. A final and surprising predator of the spotted lanternfly is koi fish. They eat the insects when they land on the water to drink.

Tree Wrap: Wrap tree trunks with sticky bands. This will trap adult spotted lanternflies before they can lay eggs.


How to Identify Spotted Lanternfly Eggs

Spotted lanternflies lay their eggs on smooth surfaces. Look for them on tree trunks, rocks, outdoor furniture, and other man-made objects. The egg masses are usually brown in color. They consist of a sticky, putty-like substance that dries and hardens over time, creating a protective coating for the eggs.

The egg masses are usually laid in late autumn and can contain up to 30-50 eggs each. The timing for finding and destroying the eggs is critical and should be done during the winter. If you wait until spring, the eggs will hatch. Then the nymphs will emerge and begin feeding on the sap of trees and other plants. This is what causes significant damage to the surrounding vegetation. Checking for egg masses regularly and destroying any that are found will prevent the hatching of the next generation of spotted lanternflies.

During the spring and summer months, be sure to monitor the surrounding area for the presence of spotted lanternflies. You can also look for wilting or damaged plants and trees, honeydew deposits, and sooty mold growth. By staying vigilant and taking these steps, private landowners can help to slow the spread of the spotted lanternfly. This also serves to protect their property, as well as the surrounding area, from the devastating effects of this invasive species.


How You Can Help Combat the Spotted Lanternfly

  • Inspecting your property regularly. Look carefully for the presence of spotted lanternflies and their egg masses. Destroy any that are found.
  • Refrain from moving firewood, lumber, or other materials that may contain spotted lanternflies or their eggs.
  • Plant native species of trees and shrubs. These are less susceptible to spotted lanternfly feeding damage. Be aware that the invasive tree of heaven serves as a host plant for the insect.
  • Participating in community-wide efforts to control the spread of spotted lanternflies. Keep an eye out for any local public education and outreach programs.
  • Reporting any sightings of the insect or its egg masses to the relevant state or federal agency. This helps monitor and respond to any infestation.


Where Do Spotted Lanternflies Go at Night:

Interestingly, at night, lanternflies tend to congregate on tree trunks or undersides, closer to the ground. They are less active and seek shelter in foliage or crevices. By day, they can fly long distances and spread primarily through human movement, clinging to vehicles, machinery, or infested materials. This highlights the importance of inspecting and cleaning outdoor equipment and vehicles to prevent their spread.


A Call to Action: United Against the Spotted Lanternfly

The spotted lanternfly is a serious threat to agriculture, forestry, and recreation in the United States. Effective control and management strategies are needed to prevent its spread and reduce its impact.  The involvement of federal and state agencies, as well as private landowners, is crucial in the fight against this invasive species.