How to stop the spread of the spotted lanternfly

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Spotted Lanternfly
Spotted Lanternfly by U.S. Department of Agriculture (Photo courtesy of Bugwood) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://www.flickr.com/photos/usdagov/18866197140)], via Flickr

Although it’s been around since 2014, the spotted lanternfly has spent some time in the spotlight recently because of its ability to spread.

The spotted lanternfly was first identified nearly four years ago in Berks County, Pennsylvania. Since then, it’s spread to 13 southern Pennsylvania counties and has been sighted in at least three other states. Entomologists found the insect in Delaware and New York last fall and in Virginia in January, raising concern within the agricultural community.

  • Where has the spotted lanternfly been spotted?
  • What crops will be affected?
  • How can you identify the spotted lanternfly?
  • What should you do if you find a spotted lanternfly?
  • How can you stop it from spreading?

Having the answers to these questions can help you implement management strategies to stop the spread of the spotted lanternfly before it impacts agricultural industries in a bigger way.

Current impact

Pennsylvania has a quarantine in place to stop the movement of the spotted lanternfly. The quarantine includes the counties it has been found in and affects a variety of stone, plant and wood products.

The following counties are under quarantine:

  • Berks
  • Bucks
  • Carbon
  • Chester
  • Delaware
  • Lancaster
  • Lebanon
  • Lehigh
  • Monroe
  • Montgomery
  • Northampton
  • Philadelphia
  • Schuylkill

Industries and regulated articles under the quarantine that are not to be removed/moved to a new area are:

  • Any living stage of the spotted lanternfly, including egg masses, nymphs and adults.
  • Brush, debris, bark or yard waste
  • Landscaping, remodeling or construction waste
  • Logs, stumps or any tree parts
  • Firewood of any species
  • Grapevines for decorative purposes or as nursery stock
  • Nursery stock
  • Crated materials
  • Outdoor household articles including recreational vehicles, lawn tractors and mowers, mower decks, grills, grill and furniture covers, tarps, mobile homes, tile, stone, deck boards, mobile fire pits, any associated equipment and trucks or vehicles not stored indoors.

Dangers

If you’re a farmer, you care about invasive species or you should. It directly impacts your livelihood. But even if your not a farmer you should care about stopping the spread of the spotted lanternfly.

Why, you ask. The spotted lanternfly poses a threat to crops, timber and ornamental plants. The plant species counted as hosts include grapes, peaches, apples, dogwood, maples, walnut, oak, hops, ornamental trees, pines, vines and its favorite host, the Tree of Heaven or ailanthus. In addition, it was also observed feeding on soybean and corn crops in Pennsylvania last year.

The spotted lanternfly is highly destructive, feeding on plant sap and secreting large amounts of honeydew. Both can cause damage to a host plant. However, honeydew promotes the growth of sooty mold, which is extremely damaging, especially to fruit crops. The honeydew secretions can also attract other pests to feed on a host plant.

While the destruction it can cause is alarming enough, the greatest concern about the spotted lanternfly is its ability to spread via hitchhiking. Of any life stage, their egg masses have the greatest potential for long-distance travel. There are two reasons for this. The egg masses don’t attract attention and are not clearly visible once they’ve been deposited. Furthermore, females will lay them on virtually any surface, including trees, lumber, furniture and vehicles.

Combine the characteristics of the spotted lanternfly’s egg masses with the fact that its favorite host plant, the ailanthus, is invasive in 44 states and grows near disturbed areas such as around parking lots or along highways and railroad tracks, and you’ve got a recipe for disaster.

Identification

Spotted Lanternfly egg mass
Spotted lanternfly egg mass. Photo credit: Emelie Swackhamer, via Penn State University.

The spotted lanternfly is relatively easy to identify because of its unique colors and patterns.

Adult. The spotted lanternfly adult is about 1 inch long and 1/2 inch wide at rest. The forewing is grey with black spots and the wingtips are reticulated black blocks outlined in grey. The hind wings have contrasting patches of red and black with a white band. The legs and head are black; the abdomen is yellow with broad black stripes. Immature stages are black with white spots, and develop red patches as they grow, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture.

Egg masses. Egg masses contain 30 to 50 eggs that stick to flat surfaces. Freshly laid egg masses have a grey, waxy, mud-like coating, while hatched eggs look like brownish, seed-like deposits in four to seven columns about an inch long, according to Entomology Today.

Signs of damage. Preferred host trees will develop weeping wounds, leaving a grey or black trail along the trunk. This sap will attract other insects to feed, such as wasps and ants. In late fall, adult spotted lanternflies will lay egg masses on host trees and nearby smooth surfaces like stone, outdoor furniture, vehicles, and structures. Newly laid egg masses have a grey mud-like covering which can take on a dry cracked appearance over time. Old egg masses appear as rows of 30-50 brownish seed-like deposits in 4-7 columns on the trunk, roughly an inch long.

If you find a spotted lanternfly

The Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture recommends the following if you find a spotted lanternfly on your property, located outside the quarantined area.

Egg masses. If you find egg masses, scrape them off, double bag them and throw them away after placing the eggs into alcohol or hand sanitizer to kill them.  Then follow up by reporting all destroyed egg masses on the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture website.

Collect a specimen. Specimens of any life stage can be turned in to the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture’s Entomology lab for verification by submitting samples with the Entomology Program Sample Submission Form.

Submit a picture. A picture of any life stage (including egg masses) can be submitted to Badbug@pa.gov.

Report a site. If you can’t take a specimen or photograph, call the Automated Invasive Species Report Line at 1-866-253-7189 and leave a message detailing your sighting and contact information.

If you find a spotted lanternfly within the quarantine area, you should try to kill it.

Management

You can kill a spotted lanternfly by swatting or crushing it, but they are able to jump far away when they are threatened, so this method isn’t always best.

The following management practices are recommended by the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture:

Host tree removal and trap tree establishment. Because the spotted lanternfly favors the ailanthus or Tree of Heaven, you can target the insect by killing about 90 percent of this host on your property. The trees you elect should be females. To eliminate these trees you’ll have to cut them down and then apply herbicide to their stumps. With the remaining 10 percent of these trees that you left standing, you’ll need to apply a systemic insecticide — PDA is using products containing Dinotefuran — starting in May. When the spotted lanternfly visits these trees in late July to feed, your trap trees will eliminate them.

Scraping egg masses. If host tree removal and trap tree establishment aren’t possible, you can identify and scrape egg masses. After you’ve removed them, place them in alcohol or hand sanitizer to kill them or double bag them and throw them in the garbage.

Tree banding. Another option the PDA suggests for confirmed infested properties is tree banding. Brown sticky tree bands are an effective, environmentally friendly way to catch spotted lanternfly nymphs. Those interested in banding their trees can attend training sessions in early spring and receive a kit that contains all of the material needed for banding their trees.

Treating a property without Tree of Heaven. There are cases where you may not have Tree of Heaven on your property, but you’re finding spotted lanternfly. In Pennsylvania, the application of insecticides is site-specific, meaning you can use insecticides labeled for use on ornamentals.

Additional tips. If you’re living in an area affected by the spotted lanternfly, here are some additional precautions you can take to stop the spreading.

Resources

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Sara is Farm and Dairy’s online content producer. Raised in Portage County, she earned a magazine journalism degree from Kent State University. She enjoys spending time with her daughter, traveling, writing, reading and outdoor recreation.

5 COMMENTS

  1. Miss Sara: “How to stop the spread of the spotted lantern fly?”

    SIMPLE: Tell us where it came from, eh? Why did you miss this critical point in your article?

    “The spotted lanternfly (Lycorma delicatula) is a planthopper native to China, India, and Vietnam.”

    WHO at FED GOV or PA GOV is not doing their job allowing these invasive pests into America???

  2. Just saw yesterday that they are really coming out and so yesterday when I go out I take a fly swatted out wit me and go on a killing spree. Plus to day I saw the neighbor doing the same thing.

  3. They have been spotted heavily in Morgantown, PA in trees and all around outside on deck and in our flowers……..killing as much as we can by stamping them out!

  4. Has been spotted in Morgantown Pa……In trees, around our patio on are doors, screens in our flowers……Trying to stamp out as many as possible but they just keep coming.

    HOW DO WE STOP THEM??

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