Help slow the spread of the spotted lanternfly

Spotted Lanternfly
Spotted Lanternfly by U.S. Department of Agriculture (Photo courtesy of Bugwood) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (], via Flickr

Years ago, when my husband and I started traveling across the country, we had a goal that our children would visit far more national parks than theme parks. That goal has easily been met, but there is one theme park that we head to at the end of every summer. Kennywood is an amusement park located in West Mifflin, Pennsylvania. 

The park has a rich history dating back to the Civil War era. It was a popular picnic spot just outside of downtown Pittsburgh overlooking the Monongahela River. The land was leased to the Monongahela Street Railway Company in 1898. In those days, a recreational park was often created at the end of a trolley line to increase business on the weekends. 

The park has three wooden roller coasters that date back to the 1920s. My favorite is the Racer, where two opposing cars traverse hills, twists, and turns all while racing to the finish. 

Spotting the spots

While waiting in line for the ride, I noticed a very peculiar insect. It was large, like a moth, but had spots on its red-tinted wings. My husband was the first to suggest that it was the spotted lanternfly. I used a bug-identifying app on my phone which confirmed that the bugs were spotted lanternflies (Lycorma delicatula). 

I had read a lot about spotted lanternflies and watched news reports, but this was my first eyewitness experience. I felt impending doom when I noticed even more of the pesky bugs. 

The spotted lanternfly was first detected in Pennsylvania in September of 2014. Native to China, the pests are thought to have first arrived in a stone shipment in the form of egg masses. Since then, spotted lanternflies have been found in 14 states. In Ohio, spotted lanternflies have been seen in three counties: Jefferson, Cuyahoga and Lorain. 

Invasive by nature, the pests feed on fruit trees along with ornamental and woody trees. They are a threat to a wide variety of crops including grapes, blueberries, hops, walnuts and apples. An infestation could be devastating to vineyards and fruit orchards. 


A spotted lanternfly cannot fly far, but it is a superb hitchhiker. Humans play a monumental role in the spread of pests. When we left the park, we were certain we did not have any on our clothing. The adults are easier to spot, but nymphs earlier in the season are more difficult to notice. 

As avid campers, we need to be vigilant when camping in quarantined areas in Pennsylvania. Spotted lanternflies begin to lay eggs in the fall. They choose outdoor surfaces to lay mud-like egg masses. The inch-long egg masses look like mud that has been smeared. Tree bark is often used but other outdoor surfaces like bikes, grills, and lawn or farm equipment can be places spotted lanternflies use to place their eggs. 

After our up-close encounter with spotted lanternflies as we stood in line, I wondered to myself how can we stop this? If possible, the bugs should be stomped or squished. Basically, they need to be vehemently destroyed. The newest anger management method could be smashing spotted lanternflies. 

Camping gear, patio furniture and bikes need to be checked at the end of the season for egg masses before being stored for the winter. Natural surfaces like tree trunks and rocks are other areas where egg masses are often located. 

A single egg mass can hold 30-50 eggs. Egg masses can be scraped into a zippered plastic bag with hand sanitizer or alcohol and then thrown away. The fall is a good time to start scouting on trees to look for any evidence of egg masses. 

Top tree choice

Tree-of-heaven (Ailanthus altissima) is a top choice of spotted lanternflies. Unfortunately, near our farm, there is a cluster of the trees. Originally from China and Taiwan, the fast-spreading tree is considered invasive and a noxious weed. 

My first thought was that all Tree-of-heaven trees should be chopped down before they become host trees for spotted lanternflies. Unfortunately, it’s not that easy. Chopping down the trees or making cuts into the bark will exacerbate the problem. The species is very resilient and shoots up root suckers when it is under stress. The roots can stretch out 50 feet from the parent tree. Treatment involves applying a systemic herbicide in mid-to-late summer before foliage starts to show fall colors. 

Targeting the roots in late summer is important because the trees are moving carbohydrates to the roots. It is crucial to follow up in the second year, looking for any regrowth. Additional applications of the appropriate herbicide may be necessary. There are more application methods for well-established tree-of-heaven stands. 

Our end of the summer trip to Kennywood was filled with nostalgia, but also a warning for the future. Spotted lanternflies are on the move and we need to do our part to slow the spread.


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