An insect invasion is always concerning. However, some pests create bigger problems than others. Despite the spotted lanternfly’s cheery disposition, it is an invasive insect causing problems in the United States. We’ve gathered information about the recent invasion of spotted lanternflies and what you can do to help.
What is it?
IMAGE: U.S. Department of AgricultureLance Cheung/Multimedia PhotoJournalist/USDA Photo by Lance Cheung / Public domain
The spotted lanternfly, lycorma delicatula, is a member of the planthopper species. It is known for its colorful appearance. An adult spotted lanternfly has grey and black spotted forewings with red, black, and white hindwings. Most of its body is black except for its yellow abdomen. The insect grows to be ½″ wide and 1″ long. Spotted lanternflies look different as nymphs. They complete four nymph stages and range in size from 1/8″ to 1/2″ which can make them tricky to spot. During the first three phases, the nymphs are black and white. During its fourth stage, the nymph is red with black and white markings. Though it has two pairs of wings, this bug prefers to hop instead of fly. This hopping habit is a characteristic of the planthopper. The spotted lanternfly is native to Asia and has only recently made appearances in the United States.
When an insect moves to a new location and causes harm, it is labeled as invasive. This damage can affect the environment, economy, or our health. The spotted lanternfly is considered an invasive species. While it won’t bite or sting humans, it’s still a problem pest because of the harm it causes to its host plant. The spotted lanternfly prefers a tree-of-heaven as its host which is a native tree in China. These are frequently used in our landscaping. Though the spotted lanternfly prefers this host, it’s not picky and will use a variety of plants. Once it finds a host, it begins feeding on it which leads to damage. It can cause the wilting of leaves, oozing sap, and gradual tree death known as tree dieback. The spotted lanternfly also secretes honeydew when it eats. This not only attracts other pests, but it can cause mold growth. While the mold isn’t harmful to humans, it can cause significant harm to plants.
IMAGE: Rkillcrazy / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)
The first spotted lanternfly was reported several years ago in Pennsylvania. Its population has grown, and it can now be found in New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, and West Virginia. The introduction of this bug has caused the loss of many plants. The infestation has hindered agriculture and the production of commercial plants including grapes. It has also destroyed natural habitats and caused damaged to yards and parks. Another problem is its ability to lay eggs on a variety of surfaces. Unlike most insects, the spotted lanternfly doesn’t have to lay eggs on plants. It has been known to lay eggs on homes, vehicles, and other natural material. To make the situation worse, they don’t just lay a few eggs at one time. Spotted lanternflies are known to lay egg masses containing 30 to 50 eggs at one time. This allows their population to easily multiply and spread.
What Can Be Done
It’s important to manage the spotted lanternfly problem before it gets worse. There are a few recommendations to help prevent the growth of the population—stop the spread, scrape eggs, band trees, remove the host plant, and apply insecticides. To keep spreading from occurring it is advised to check vehicles for eggs, nymphs, and adults when traveling in and out of areas with reported spotted lanternflies. It’s also recommended to remove eggs that can be found on trees, rocks, and other hard surfaces. These greyish-brown egg masses look like dried mud. Carefully scrape them off and place them in a container with rubbing alcohol. Nymphs can be stopped by tree banding which involves placing tape—sticky side up—around a tree. Since spotted lanternflies are attracted to the nonnative tree-of-heaven, removing them from your yard could help keep these bugs away. Some pesticides have been found to kill spotted lanternflies on contact. If you come across spotted lanternflies, it’s important to remember to report them and to contact a pest management professional.
The spotted lanternfly has quickly become a serious issue in parts of the United States. While it is only affecting a few states, it’s important to keep their numbers from growing. If you are in an area with spotted lanternflies, remember to do your part and follow the recommendations.