DIGITAL EXCLUSIVE: Spotted Lanternfly infestation in Pennsylvania

Local News

As spring arrives in our region, Pennsylvanians need to be aware of the Spotted Lanternfly, an invasive species ‘bugging’ our area. 

“It’s an invasive species meaning it’s not immediately from our area [Pennsylvania]. It’s a plant hopping bug from Asia,” says Jessica Stefano, Assistant Director of Education and Community Programs at Asbury Woods. 

The Spotted Lanternfly came to the United States in 2014 and remains a significant problem today. Certain counties in PA are impacted more than others, and the pest is beginning to find its way to surrounding states.  

“It feeds on over 70 different plant species and so it’s starting to come in really high numbers – we’re talking up to thousands per tree. I think the highest we counted on the research side of things is 13,000 one-inch bugs on one single maple tree,” says Heather Leach, Spotted Lanternfly Extension Associate of Penn State Entomology.  

Experts say once they invade an area, getting rid of them is difficult. Since it’s an invasive species, there are no known natural predators in our area to help control its spread. 

“The bug is native to China. In China, it’s not a problem for them because they have natural predators this bug. Since its not native to us, we don’t have those natural predators to help control it,” says Mark Spitulski, owner of MKS Arbor Services. 

Just like most bugs, the Spotted Lanternfly goes through a lifecycle and has unique identifying qualities during each stage that can help you pinpoint them. Experts say their unique features make them easy to notice. 

“it’s very strange in the way that it looks and behaves, and it’s pretty easy to identify them. The important thing to know is that they’re pretty large. They’re about an inch large as adults and they have fairly striking colors. Their wings have bright red spots on them and once they get kind of big late in the season, they start to get yellow bands on their abdomen. In earlier stages before they become adults, they’re also really striking looking. Often, they have iridescent white or red markings on them,” explains Leach. 

If the invasion does not immediately affect your county, residents need to do their part in educating themselves on the bug and stopping its spread. Even here in Erie county, we should be aware of their identifying qualities and where their eggs can be found due to its rapid spread. 

“All of Pennsylvania should be aware of it because of the way this thing can spread. It lays eggs all over the place; it can lay eggs on plant material but it can also lay eggs on garbage cans and any metal, so cars and things like that. It moves around very easily…it’s absolutely important to be monitoring it for us in Erie county and looking for it,” says Spitulski. 

Stefano says they lay large egg masses in the fall. She provides an example of just how easily Spotted Lanternfly eggs can spread. 

“What’s happening in Pennsylvania is they’re laying their eggs on things like trailers, trucks, boats, and things that people are moving in personal life and business life. So, their eggs masses are being carried from one place to another without people noticing it,” says Stefano. 

The bug is extremely harmful to the agriculture industry. They take the sap from a lot of important plants and trees. 

In this Thursday, Sept. 19, 2019, photo, a spotted lanternfly sets on a tree in Kutztown, Pa. The spotted lanternfly has emerged as a serious pest since the federal government confirmed its arrival in southeastern Pennsylvania five years ago this week. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

“Some of the plants they go after are part of our agriculture here, so they’re really affecting the agriculture industry, things that important to us. Especially now, this time of year they go after maple trees, grapes, and things in people’s yards like roses and other soft things, and there is an invasive plant that they are particularly attracted to: The Tree of Heaven, which a lot of people don’t even realize they have on their property,” says Stefano. 

“To identify the Tree of Heaven you can basically think of Black Walnut trees, Butternut trees, trees that have lots of leaflets on their branch,” explains Spitulski. 

Experts say there are different ways to help control this infestation. 

REPORT IT 

If you think you’ve seen a Spotted Lanternfly, experts say to report the sighting. Use the reporting tool, or call the hotline at 1-888-422-3359. You can also take a picture of it and email it to badbugs@pa.gov

OBSERVE – EGG MASSES AND HONEY DEW 

“Right now were in a phase where there’s still going to be the egg masses on plant material or metal structures. So you’ll see egg masses that can be scraped off, double bagged and thrown away. The other things is if you understand the lifestyle of the bug or if you get an expert to come in and evaluate, there’s different times you can control this bug. Pretty soon the first instars will start crawling around April and May. They’ll crawl around on lower shrubs underneath the trees. If we can control the smaller instars before they become adults, then you can help to slow down the population before they get into trees and cause major damage,” says Spitulski. 

Also look out for honeydew sightings. Just like other unwanted bugs, Spotted Lanternflies produce honeydew which can further cause problems. 

“The waste that they leave behind is something that they call honeydew. It’s a sticky, hard to clean away mass that not only gets over everything but also attracts things like wasps and bees and other insects that go after the sugar in honeydew,” explains Stefano. 

“It drips down like it’s raining this stuff and gets on anything under the tree or near the tree – kids toys, decks, chairs, houses, cars – and you’ll start to see black spots on those because it’s a sugary substance so of course it’s going to mold,” explains Spitulski. 

TRAP THEM 

Experts say avoid sticky bug traps. These traps easily cause danger to other wildlife. The easiest way to get rid of this bug is to kill it or squash it. You can also trap them and throw them away using methods that won’t affect other wildlife. 

“This is something that is an ongoing question for us at Penn State and actively researching what is the best way to kill it without having these unintended consequences like birds stuck on sticky bands or overusing chemical insecticides. I would say one of the best things we can do especially in areas where we don’t have a lot or its just starting to get a foothold is to detect it. If you have a few, take a flyswatter or a shoe [and kill it]. They’re easy to kill if there’s just a few of them, and remember to report it. For higher numbers, you can use organic insecticides to kill them without having that environmental impact were continuing to work on. We also started to develop these different trapping techniques. We’re removing sticky tape entirely and putting a funnel trap on our trees. People have made their own funnels out of bags or milk jugs and catch hundreds of these bugs,” explains Leach. 

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