If you live in eastern PA, you may well be aware of the rising concern over the Spotted Lanternfly in our area. The Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture is urging people outside the quarantine zone to report suspected sightings immediately, with Ohio State University professor Maria Smith describing the situation as “a ticking time bomb” if we don’t remain vigilant.
While this might sound alarmist, the arrival of spotted lanternflies could be devastating for Pennsylvania’s natural habitats. These insects are one of the most destructive invasive species to arrive in the United States for decades, so it’s important that everyone understands how to stop them from spreading.
This guide will help you to understand this invasive pest, from identifying the eggs, larvae, and adult flies, to the steps you can take to protect your landscape from infestation.
What are Spotted Lanternflies?
The spotted lanternfly is a colorful, moth-like insect originally from Asia. It is classified as a plant hopper, which means that although it can fly, it prefers to jump from tree to tree. It feeds on a variety of different trees and plants and is particularly partial to fruit, ornamental, and woody trees. As it eats, the spotted lanternfly excretes a waxy sap that causes black sooty mold to grow on tree trunks and branches.
Spotted lanternflies cause an incredible amount of harm to crops and trees, and because they are an invasive species, they have very few natural predators to keep their numbers under control. Eventually, the insect’s feeding style will kill the plant or tree from the inside out, as a result of the irreversible damage they cause to its internal structure.
The species was first found in the USA in 2014 when farmers in Pennsylvania discovered egg masses on fruit crops. Experts think it probably entered the country by hitchhiking on timber transport ships from Asia. Despite efforts to contain the species, it has been spreading across state borders ever since.
Identifying Spotted Lanternflies
A spotted lanternfly’s life cycle includes four distinct stages: egg mass, early nymph, late nymph, and adult insect. Luckily, it maintains a distinct appearance through all four stages.
Spotted lanternfly egg masses commonly contain between 30 to 50 eggs, which stick together in a flat, light grey clump. Often this mass will be covered by a light grey or brown waxy seal. The mass tends to be around 1.5 inches long and is normally found on hardwood tree trunks. Individual eggs look a little like grains of rice, with pointed ends that resemble sharpened pencil tips. Female lanternflies lay their eggs in rows, which are visible if they are not covered by the protective waxy coating.
When they first hatch, lanternfly nymphs look like small black beetles with white spots. Generally, they measure around ⅛ inch long. Hatching occurs between early May and late June, so now is prime time to spot young spotted lanternfly nymphs.
Towards the middle and end of summer, lanternfly nymphs begin to develop a distinctive red and black body with small white dots. They grow to around ½ an inch long.
As they reach the end of their nymph stage, lanternflies start to shed their skin and grow wings on their backs. The adults measure around one inch long, have a black head and legs, and grey wings with black spots. When they are resting their bright red and white hind wings are visible. In autumn the weather begins to get too cold for spotted lanternflies to survive.
The Damage Caused by Spotted Lanternflies
Although you may observe spotted lanternflies in the act, it is more likely that you will detect them by the damage they leave behind. This is the most common way that infestations are identified.
The insects survive by sucking huge quantities of sap from trees, which leaves “wounds” along the trunk that seep sticky fluid. This sticky substance may have a fermented odor, a little like rotting fruit. The flies themselves also secrete a gluey fluid, which can cause buildup on and underneath affected plants. In addition to the “honeydew” left by the insect, you may also find a build-up of sooty black mold on the tree if flies have been on it for a while.
How to Deal With Spotted Lanternflies
If you suspect you might have an infestation of spotted lanternflies, then the first thing you should do is report it as quickly as possible. Spotted lanternflies are notorious hitchhikers, and are very likely to spread to other areas if not contained. As well as keeping a keen eye on your trees and plants, you should also check your vehicles for insects. If you find them you should kill them immediately.
Eggs should be destroyed as soon as you find them, but beware: this must be done properly to prevent further spreading. Begin by scraping them off the plant or tree, and transfer them directly into a double-bagged container. If possible, you should then cover them with hand sanitizer or an alcohol concentrate, before disposing of them in the trash.
This invasive insect can be tricky to handle alone, so you must seek professional help if you suspect an infestation. emi can help you to assess the risk of an infestation at your property, and conduct inspections to check for signs.
Don’t hesitate to give us a call to talk about how to protect your outdoor space.