Spotted lantern fly

The Spotted Lanternfly is a new invasive pest of concern for grapes, tree fruit, and other woody trees that is found, so far, primarily in Eastern Pennsylvania. 

LIMERICK — It's not Godzilla or Mothra, but it might just as well be a creature out of a Japanese monster movie, although in this case, it's land of origin is Korea and China and it is much smaller.

We're talking of course about the spotted lanternfly, an invasive insect species with about as many unpleasant attributes as you could think up and which began its invasion of the U.S. in Berks County.

Sally Richmond

Volunteer presenter Sally Richmond with a slide of how the spotted lanternflies will first appear after they hatch. 

In all likelihood, you haven't forgotten these fluttering spots of color as they flopped around in late fall, dying in the cold but not before they had laid eggs everywhere.

Now is the time to be scraping eggs said Penn State Extension volunteer Sally Richmond, and put them into hand sanitizer or isopropyl alcohol, before then hatch. Each egg pod holds 30 to 50 eggs and killing them before they hatch is the most effective control.

Lanternfly crowd

More than 60 people turned out for the April 30 presentation in the Limerick Township building on battling the invasive spotted lanternfly.

Richmond was talking to a crowd of more than 60 people, the largest crowd she has yet addressed, packed into the main meeting room of the Limerick Township Building on April 30.

Once spotted lanterfly nymphs hatch, they will be small black and white; then red, black and white bugs that cannot yet fly. Putting sticky tape around trees, or outward-facing duct tape, will catch thousands because "they are going up and down the tree almost every day," said Richmond.

Piercing-sucking mouthparts

The white rectangle shows the outline of the spotted lanternfly's "piercing-sucking mouthparts" is uses to drink tree sap. 

Now is also the ideal time to start poisoning the spotted lanternfly's favorite food, the alianthus tree, also an invasive species from the Orient and sometimes known as the "tree of heaven," for reasons that would escape anyone who has smelled it.

Saturating the soil around the tree or even injecting it into the tree will poison the sap for months, thus poisoning the bugs who are feeding on it, and on other things as well.

In fact, were it the mutually assured destruction of these two species, some might not mind, but spotted lanternfly eat other things too, particularly fruit trees.

To be clear, they eat tree sap, literally sapping strength from trees, making them more susceptible to other diseases or killing them outright.

Money lost

The economic impact of the spotted lanternfly is considerable.

The total potential damage to Pennsylvania agriculture and landscaping is more than $1 billion, and that's not even counting the impact on things like tourism and property values, Richmond said.

The bugs are not very good at digesting the sap, so they are constantly excreting something someone with a sense of irony named "honeydew," essentially spotted lanternfly urine, that is sticky, causes mold and smells "like rancid peanut butter," Richmond said.

In addition to killing the insects, businesses and travelers need to check their vehicles carefully and make sure they are not transporting them out of the quarantine area, which is essentially the 13 most southeast counties in Pennsylvania.

Township Supervisor Tom Neafcy, who was in the audience, said employees at his transportation business had to be trained on what to look for and complete a check of their vehicles before heading out every day, or face a fine of as much as $1,000.

Lanternflies on tire

The nymphs and adults can be very tenacious in clinging to vehicles. 

Richmond said the state now issues a permit for business vehicles that travel in and out of the quarantine area.

In answer to a question from the audience, she said it is possible state officials may begin inspecting recreational vehicles traveling out of the quarantine area to other places, like the shore or the mountains to prevent the pest's spread.

Because they are new to the Pennsylvania ecosystem, the spotted lanternfly have no natural enemies.

Some are killed by spiders and praying mantis, but no local predator, microscopic, insect, bird or mammal "has specialized yet," said Richmond.

Although researchers at Cornell University have identified two fungal pathogens that could potentially curb the lanternflies.

In China, the pests are kept in check by a "parasitic wasp that lays its eggs inside the spotted lanternfly's egg casings and its eggs hatch first and the wasps each the eggs before the spotted lanternfly eggs hatch," said Richmond.

Something like that may evolve "in the next 10 to 20 years," but until that happens, they are a threat to our economy," Richmond said.

And they are a threat to our peace of mind as well, said many in the crowd.

Resources

More information about pesticides, treatment methods and precautions about the spotted lanternfly can be found on the Penn State Extension website.

One audience member said she scraped eggs, killed hundreds of adults. "I was out there four times a day killing them. I told neighbors who didn't do anything. I feel like I'm doing my part, and will continue to do my part, but if no one else in the neighborhood is doing it, it feels kind of futile."

Richmond assured her it is not futile, but agreed that right now the best defense against the invasion is us.

She noted that it is estimated that since eggs were laid last fall, 1.7 million egg masses have been scraped and destroyed, each with 30 to 50 eggs inside. "That makes a difference, do the math," she said.

The information pamphlet she handed out were gone before long, but Limerick Township Manager Dan Kerr said her presentation and the information in the pamphlet, as well as links to more information, will all be posted on — www.limerickpa.org — the township website.

This article first appeared as a post in The Digital Notebook blog.

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