The Spotted Lanternfly (Lycorma delicatula) may be one of the most beautiful and colorful insects you’ll ever see but don’t let looks deceive you. Its presence wreaks havoc wherever it is found because it is an invasive species with few natural controls to stop its spread in North America. In China and Vietnam, it is a native species. It was first introduced in Pennsylvania, USA in 2014 when stones covered with their eggs were imported from overseas. They are great hitchhikers (stowing themselves in trunks and the undercarriage of vehicles). They appear to be spreading north along the 87 corridor which means they are on their way here.
There are over 100 species of plants it feeds on including cucumbers, apple trees, grapes vines, willows, maples, and black walnut trees but its preference is Tree of Heaven (Ailanthus altissima) that looks a lot like Poison Sumac but its bark has a cantaloupe-appearance. The insects use their piercing-sucking mouthparts to tap into bark and plants. As they feed, they excrete a sugary, “honeydew” substance which causes the growth of black sooty mold. The mold itself is not harmful to humans but it attracts biting and stinging insects like wasps that threaten people and pets. Additionally, the sooty black mold can destroy vegetation like crops, orchards, and vineyards as well as make outdoor recreational areas unusable. In Pennsylvania, it has decimated orchards and vineyards so its presence could significantly impact the economy of the Hudson Valley if it gets a foothold here. It could cause the closing of pick-your-own orchards and threaten our tourism and agricultural economies. The good news is that unlike Pennsylvania, Staten Island, and Upstate NY which have been overrun with the insect, the Mid-Hudson region still has a chance to stop the spread and devastation of the Spotted Lanternfly.
A knowledge of the developmental stages of the Spotted Lanternfly will help to eradicate its spread. They begin their lives in eggs that were laid by adults before they were killed off by winter’s cold. Around May or June, they hatch into First Instars – little black beetles with white “stars” on their backs, then from June to September they morph through three more instar phases before evolving into pretty red, white, and black winged adults from September to December. As the cool weather of Fall approaches, these adults begin to lay their eggs before they die. They lay their eggs on any smooth surface most often on the underside of branches and on tree bark but will also lay them on houses, vehicles, and the underside of guardrails. The eggs are covered in a gummy, white puttylike secretion to protect the eggs from weather and predators. Over time, that secretion darkens and may crack with exposure to weather. YOU CAN HELP STOP THE SPREAD: If you see egg masses scrape them off the tree, destroy them, and report it. You can use a credit card or some flat hard object to scrape them off making sure to collect as much of the eggs as possible so none are left to hatch (try not to let any fall on the ground where the eggs could survive and hatch). Placing the eggs into an empty plastic bottle and mixing with hand sanitizer or rubbing alcohol will kill the eggs. You can report your sighting online at https://survey123.arcgis.com/share/a08d60f6522043f5bd04229e00acdd63
There are also a variety of ways to catch and kill the nymphs and adults. One way is to remove the cap from an empty plastic bottle and place the mouth right up to the spotted lanternfly. Their defense mechanism is to jump away when they feel trapped so they jump into the bottle. They will try to crawl out so be sure to put the cap on between capturing them. Once you have filled the bottle about ¾ full, cap it, and put the bottle in a freezer. This will kill them. Then dispose of the frozen bugs in the trash. Another way is to build a simple trap by wrapping netting around a tree, tying it off, and then pulling the netting from the top down. The spotted lanternflies climb trees from the bottom going up so they climb into the trap. There is a video that shows how to make the trap at https://youtu.be/3JrP2jzps7w. Never use sticky traps on trees. They can kill and maim birds, bats, and wildlife. There is a safer method called the BugBarrier Tree Band which has been found to be very effective at places like the Philadelphia Zoo. The sticky adhesive is toward the tree so it doesn’t adhere to and trap birds, bats, and other wildlife. Instructional video at https://youtu.be/qtZP8XH2Cn8
Because they come in swarms, making a dent in their numbers is critical. Cornell Cooperative Extension in partnership with NY DEC is educating residents and pest professionals in the use of pesticides to eradicate them. There are three possible methods. “Basal bark” is spraying pesticide from the ground up to 12 to 18 inches directly onto trees up to 6 inches in diameter. A very promising method is injecting neonicotinoids into the phloem after the plant or tree has bloomed otherwise it can kill the pollinator insects like bees and butterflies. This method has a good kill rate as long as the conditions are right: moist soil and high humidity which causes the tree to respire and draw the pesticide up to its branches where the Spotted Lanterflies congregate and feed. “Hack-and-squirt” works for Tree of Heaven plants that are at least one inch in diameter. Cuts are made evenly around the tree and herbicide is squirted into those cuts. This is done to eliminate the preferred food of Spotted Lanternflies.
Unlike Pennsylvania, Staten Island, and Upstate NY which have been overrun with the insect, the Mid-Hudson region still has a chance to stop the spread and devastation of the Spotted Lanternfly. If you see a Spotted Lanternfly in any of its stages, take a photo with it next to something like a coin or ruler to indicate size, if possible collect the specimen (placing in a bag and freeze or in a jar with hand sanitizer or rubbing alcohol), note the location (street address or GPS location), email the pictures and location to email@example.com. Learn more by visiting www.nynjtc.org/news/spotted-lanternfly-response.