The spotted lanternfly (Lycorma delicatula) is quite the intriguing creature. These spotted beauties may look like a colorful butterfly or moth, but make no mistake, they are a species of planthopper that are causing quite a stir in the Eastern United States (and beyond). With their vibrant wings and penchant for feasting on the sap of various trees and plants, they may be a sight to behold, but they are also a major pest that requires our attention. So, friend, let's dive into the fascinating world of the spotted lanternfly and discover what makes them tick.
What is a spotted lanternfly?
Well, well, well…look who's fluttering by! The spotted lanternfly, a cunning little critter that could be easily mistaken for a butterfly or moth. But don't be fooled, this is no ordinary insect. It's a planthopper, a member of the order Hemiptera, and what entomologists call "true bugs." Others of their kind include the notorious aphids and stink bugs, all with piercing-sucking mouthparts that they use to extract sap or other fluids from plants or animals.
But what really sets this bugger apart is its flashy appearance. Aptly named the "spotted" lanternfly, it's decked out in brightly colored wings with black spots and stripes on a red or gray background, giving it an unmistakable spotted look. And if that's not enough to catch your eye, its wings are held out to the sides and slightly up when at rest, resembling a lantern.
And let's not forget about its body shape—flattened and elongated, with large hind legs that are perfect for jumping or hopping around. This little creature may look harmless, but don't be fooled.
Where did the spotted lanternfly come from?
Taylor & France Online has some interesting tidbits to share about those pesky spotted lanternflies. They're invasive planthoppers originally from northern China, but they made their exotic debut in South Korea back in 2004.
Curious as to how these little pests made their way stateside? Well, according to Cornell, it's believed they hitched a ride on a stone shipment back in 2012, arriving in the country as sneaky little egg masses.
Their first infestation was discovered just two years later in 2014, lurking around in a wooded area of Berks County, Pennsylvania. And what did they find there? Oh, just a little something called the invasive Tree of Heaven (Ailanthus altissima), which just so happens to be one of the spotted lanternfly's favorite hosts. Coincidence? I think not.
Despite all efforts to contain and eradicate this pest, it seems that they've spread like wildfire and made themselves right at home in several other eastern U.S. states, including New Jersey, causing quite a stir in the agricultural and forestry industries. These spotted lanternflies may be small, but they're mighty troublesome, friend. Keep your eyes peeled and your wits about you, especially when you’re in that part of the world.
What is the timeline for spotted lanternfly sightings?
This timeline is from the Spotted Lanternfly Reported Distribution Map by CornellCALS.
- 2014: Initial infestation found in Berks County, Pennsylvania, in 2014.
- 2017: A dead adult spotted lanternfly became the first New York sighting in Delaware County.
- 2018: Spotted lanternfly adults or egg masses found in NY in Albany, Chemung, Kings (Brooklyn), Monroe, Suffolk, Westchester and Yates Counties—all thought to be hitchhikers; no populations found at this time.
- 2020: In New York, populations were found in Staten Island and Ithaca.
- 2021: Populations expanded in the New York City region, Long Island, the lower Hudson Valley and a new population was discovered near Binghamton, N.Y. Infestations were also detected in two new states, Massachusetts and Indiana.
Why are spotted lanternflies invasive?
Spotted lanternflies are invasive because they can weaken (and ultimately kill) plants. A species is considered invasive when it is introduced, often unintentionally by people, to a non-native area and spreads rapidly, causing harm to the new environment.
Here are three ways that spotted lanternflies cause detriment to plants:
- Spotted lanternflies feed on their sap of plants. The spotted lanternfly pierces the bark of a plant and sucks out its nourishing, life-giving sap. This damages the plant's vascular system, which may result in a plant that is wilted, with discolored leaves, and has stunted growth and reduced fruit production.
- Spotted lanternflies excrete a sugary substance called honeydew. Honeydew is highly attractive for ants, wasps, fruit flies and other sugar-loving insects. Who wants yet further nuisances adorning the trees (and causing further issues) around your home?
- The honeydew produced by spotted lanternflies is mold-causing. Honeydew can accumulate on the leaves and stems of plants, causing them to become sticky and promoting the growth of sooty mold. Note: Clove oil has antifungal properties and can be effective in controlling mold on plants.
What plants are damaged by spotted lanternflies?
Spotted lanternflies have a wide range of host plants, which makes them a significant threat to agricultural production and the health of natural ecosystems. These include:
- Tree of Heaven: This invasive tree species is a preferred host for spotted lanternflies, and the insects are often found feeding on the sap of these trees.
- Fruit trees: Spotted lanternflies can cause significant damage to fruit trees, including apple, peach, cherry, and plum trees. Infestations can lead to stunted growth, reduced fruit production and other symptoms of stress.
- Hardwood trees: Spotted lanternflies will feed on the sap of hardwood trees, including oak, maple and walnut trees. They are especially detrimental to oaks and black walnut trees, which are economically important here in the U.S. This feeding can weaken the trees and make them more susceptible to disease and other stressors.
- Grapevines: Spotted lanternflies can, according to a study by MDPI, “cause serious damage to grape vineyards.” This affects the quality and quantity of the fruit produced.
How do I get rid of the spotted lanternfly?
If you see a spotted lanternfly in the United States, there may be specific recommendations and guidance already established by the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) for your area. If you are outside a zone where the spotted lanternfly is known to be present and see one, please contact your state agricultural department for advice.
In addition, PennState Extension has provided a thorough frequently asked questions article on the spotted lanternfly.
Other actions for controlling and getting rid of the spotted lanternfly include:
- Checking your vehicle: Check for these insects and their eggs. Spotted lanternflies can easily spread to new areas through human activities, such as transportation of infested materials or outdoor equipment. Be sure to check any outdoor equipment, vehicles or other materials for the presence of spotted lanternflies or egg masses before moving them to a new location.
- Removing their preferred host tree: Tree of Heaven is a preferred host plant for spotted lanternflies. Removing these trees from your property can help to reduce the risk of infestation.
- Parking away from trees with your windows closed: If you live in an area where spotted lanternflies are known to be present, it can be helpful to park your vehicle away from trees and keep your windows closed to prevent the insects from entering your vehicle.
- Spraying Six Feet Under: Six Feet Under is a non-toxic spray featuring a lab-proven, propriety blend of selection essential oils, including soybean, clove and cinnamon. This kill-on-contact spray will quickly eliminate spotted lanternflies with a single shot. It is people-friendly and pet-friendly and intended for both indoor and outdoor use.
- Encouraging natural predators: Birds, such as woodpeckers, blue jays and sparrow are effective hunters, as are some of our eight-legged friends, like the orb-weaver and crab spider. Let’s not forget the praying mantises and assassin bugs too. Keep your gardens and surrounding areas healthy and diverse, and you're sure to attract a wide variety of natural predators that can help control the spread of these spotted lanternflies.