Let your inner child loose on spotted lanternfly

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Spotted lanternfly
An adult spotted lanternfly with its wings closed. At about 1 inch long, they are found July to December. Photo credit: Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture.

The late July sun cast a blistering heat and stark brightness that seemingly whitewashed and voided everything of color as our family’s wood-paneled Oldsmobile station wagon made its way through the rolling Ohio landscape on way to the Ohio State Fair.

After we stopped for lunch along the way to fill my brother’s and my stomachs which had been emptied via the winding roads of Appalachian Ohio about 20 minutes into the trip alongside said winding roads, we made our way toward the car to continue our journey.

Enormous ant. All of the sudden, my grandpa froze and grabbed my brother around the shoulders impeding him from walking forward.

“Look,” my grandpa exclaimed, “look at that ant!”

On the sidewalk before them, an enormous black ant laboriously tugged at a French fry six times his size, dragging the fallen potato in a zigzag route across the concrete. The family gathered in a semicircle around this small beast and his great prize watching his movement, when my grandpa realized that I was a few feet behind playing in the rocks.

“Hey!” he yelled, “come here look at this.”

I made my way over toward my family and could hear my mother and grandma talking about high hopes and rubber tree plants. My entire family’s focus was on this ant and the lost French fry when all of a sudden — THWAP! — the ant disappeared beneath a child’s size 12 DuckTales clad Velcro shoe, completely vaporized.

The look of shock and horror washed across their faces as their eyes followed the outline of the shoe and up the small leg and body to my smiling face. I’ve never been a fan of ants.

Family trip

Now, fast forward 30+ years to Lancaster, Pennsylvania. My wife and I took my parents and family friends, who I consider my second parents, to this eastern Pennsylvania community to ride a train being pulled by the famed 611 steam locomotive.

After the ride on the train, we made our way to the downtown farmers’ market to shop and make our way around the streets of the town. All of the sudden, my wife, my mom and Marilyn froze on the sidewalk and looked down. My dad and Kenny soon followed. I was several feet away having been distracted by a historical marker.

“What kind of bug is it?” Marilyn asked, which was answered by a resounding “I don’t know” from everyone encircling it.

The bug was long and almost triangular in form. Its wings were muted gray covered with black spots that made way to small broken black lines on the lower third of the wing near the tips. A small hint of orange shined through from beneath the wings.

“Hey,” they called to me, “what is this?”

I made my toward them, as they all still remained hunched over, their gaze fixated on this mysterious creature when suddenly there was a flash and an echoing THWAP! as the bug disappeared beneath a men’s size 14 steel-toe boot, completely vaporized.

The look of shock and horror washed across their faces as their eyes followed the outline of the boot up to my face, looking for answers as to why I just cut down an innocent bug in its prime in the streets of Lancaster like a scene from Tombstone.

“Spotted lanternfly” I said, “very invasive and bad. Need to kill all you see.”

Spotted lanternfly

The spotted lanternfly (Lycorma delicatula) is a leafhopper that is native to Vietnam, China, India and other southeastern countries. The insect feeds on the sap of over 70 different fruit, ornamental and woody trees. The impact it could have on important forestry and agricultural crops could leave a devastating impact on these markets from which they may never recover.

Its presence can be fatal to plants, and its preferred choices of food are grape vines, walnut trees and especially the highly invasive tree-of-heaven (Ailanthus altissima). Do not consider — like I very briefly did — about welcoming the bug to kill off and devour any tree-of heaven that  may have taken over. This is not the emerald ash borer that largely focuses on one species — spotted lanternflies will go after and kill the plants you treasure or depend on.

First appearing in 2014 in eastern Pennsylvania, the spotted lanternfly now has 26 counties in Pennsylvania under quarantine, and it has been found in the states of Maryland, Delaware, Virginia and New Jersey. They now sit at the borders of Ohio and West Virginia threatening an invasion that would make Eisenhower jealous.

Although not strong fliers, spotted lanternflies are opportunists and have been known to put Claudette Colbert to shame with their hitchhiking abilities. They traveled to Beaver and Allegheny counties in Pennsylvania by jumping the trains heading west like hobos, first appearing in the aforementioned counties in the railyards of Norfolk Southern.

On our family trip to Lancaster, we had two of the spotted lanternflies fly into the car windows and three were clinging to the grill of the car awaiting a free passage to Ohio. Spotted lanternflies as adults are an attractive species and a lack a lot in the intelligence department, which do make them easy to spot.

Their egg masses and nymphs are a little trickier to identify. Education and early detection is going to be vital in eradicating and controlling this invasive varmint. To learn more, visit the following websites:

If you see a spotted lanternfly, contact the following:

  • Pennsylvania: call 888-422-3359
  • Ohio: contact ODA Plant Pest Control at 614-728-6400 or plantpest@agri.ohio.gov; your local soil and water conservation district; or the OSU Extension office
  • West Virginia: email the West Virginia Department of Agriculture at bugbusters@wvda.us

Most importantly, if you see a spotted lanternfly, let your inner child fly and stomp on that bug as hard and fast as you can. Completely vaporize it with whatever style and size shoe you wear. Make that THAWP! of your foot echo.

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