First, you must identify the bug. Is it red when its wings are open? Is it brown with dark brown spots when its wings are closed? If so, you’ve found yourself a spotted lanternfly. What can you do about it? As they are an invasive species, they must go. You open the cabinet beneath the sink and grab the flyswatter. You pull your shoes on and stomp out the door. It is time for war. The spotted lanternflies are destroying the grapes that you’ve been trying to grow for years. Your fight will not be an easy one. You think you’ve killed the bug, but then notice it on a leaf a foot away. You’ve knocked off more grapes and destroyed more grape leaves than you’d like to admit in a failed attempt at getting rid of the insect. You find a spotted lanternfly resting on a grapevine and take a swift whack at it. It finally falls to the ground – the only place you’ll have a chance at killing it. You kneel down into the grass and bring your flyswatter down, smashing the spotted lanternfly until you see that its wings have torn off. Satisfied, you stand back up to face your next enemy. Such is the process of killing a spotted lanternfly.
It may appear to be a bit dramatic and may seem like an excessive process to kill just a single insect, but when it is an invasive species, predator-less, coating entire tree trunks, or covering all sides of necessary agricultural crops, they need to be exterminated.
What exactly is a spotted lanternfly and why is the insect dangerous? Spotted lanternflies are invasive insects that are native to China, Japan, and Vietnam. They were first discovered in Pennsylvania in 2014 after most likely traveling on a shipment of stone; they have also arrived on imported woody plants and wood products. These insects are particularly harmful to US industries, posing serious economic threats to viticulture, fruit trees, ornamentals, and timber.
Native to China, spotted lanternflies were first discovered in Pennsylvania in 2014. While they have been detected in Connecticut, Delaware, Massachusetts, Maryland, North Carolina, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and West Virginia, their presence is by far the worst in Pennsylvania and New Jersey. Pennsylvania and New Jersey are clear indicators of what happens when an invasive species – in this case spotted lanternflies – are not under control; it took just seven years for the insect to invade 34 Pennsylvanian and 13 New Jersey counties. Each county is now a quarantine zone.
This quarantine means that all residents and businesses in the county cannot move an object that has the potential to harbor spotted lanternfly egg masses, nymphs, and adult lanternflies without regulations. Items that are currently regulated include tree parts, – such as logs and stumps – landscaping waste, and recreational vehicles. If someone knowingly moves an object harboring the spotted lanternflies, it is considered a serious offense for which they could receive criminal or civil penalties and fines.
Despite what their name may imply, spotted lanternflies rarely fly. Instead, they are known as planthoppers, or small jumping insects that appear to hop for quick transportation. It is this movement that makes it particularly difficult to kill the insect by hand.
Throughout their year-long lifespan, spotted lanternflies go through three main life cycles: the egg stage, the nymph stage, and the adult stage. The egg stage lasts between October and June and may be the most important when you’re trying to control the insect as they are most easily killed in this stage. To kill the eggs, you must simply scrape them off of the place where they were laid and dump them in some alcohol.
The second stage is the nymph stage, which lasts between May and September. It is during this stage that a spotted lanternfly matures and ends when the insect becomes an adult. Within this stage are four instar stages: the first three last around a month and the last spans between July and September. For the majority of this time, the insect is black with white spots and feeds on trees such as willows and maples. It is during the fourth instar stage that the spotted lanternfly changes the most. In this stage, they grow larger and change color from black with white spots to red with white spots.
Finally, the adult stage lasts between July and December—when the spotted lanternflies are most damaging to agricultural crops. In this stage, the spotted lanternflies develop gray and spotted forewings. During this time they hop from tree to tree and plant to plant, preferring our agricultural crops. They particularly like grapevines, and apple, plum, and apricot trees. Between September and December, the adult females lay their eggs. From each egg mass they lay, between 30 and 50 spotted lanternflies can hatch.
This September, the first evidence of a breeding population of spotted lanternflies was found in Massachusetts. It is therefore vital that residents of Massachusetts learn to recognize the insect and understand why they need to be killed. If not for the sake of agricultural crops, then to preserve their ability to enjoy the outdoors. No one wants to look at a tree and see bark that appears to be moving, but this could be the case if we let the spotted lanternfly population in Massachusetts get out of our control.
So, when you see the grayish-brown, spotted insect on a tree or foliage, there are several steps you must take. First, you must report your findings. To do so, google “report spotted lanternflies in Massachusetts” and click the mass.gov link. Scroll down until you find the “Think you’ve spotted a lanternfly? Report here.” button, click, and then follow the instructions given. Once you do this, feel free to grab your flyswatter and kill it. It may take you a few whacks for it to die, but once it does, we will have at least one less spotted lanternfly – possibly 30-50 less if it is female – to worry about. This is how the average Massachusetts resident – which may include you – can do their part to make sure Massachusetts does not become the next state taken over by the spotted lanternfly.
Annear, S. (2021, September 29). ‘First evidence’ of breeding population of Invasive spotted lanternfly found in Massachusetts. BostonGlobe.com. Retrieved October 30, 2021, from https://www.bostonglobe.com/2021/09/29/metro/first-evidence-breeding-population-invasive-spotted-lanternfly-found-massachusetts/.
Biology: Life Cycle, Identification, and Dispersion. Biology: Life Cycle, Identification, and Dispersion | New York State Integrated Pest Management. (n.d.). Retrieved October 30, 2021, from https://nysipm.cornell.edu/environment/invasive-species-exotic-pests/spotted-lanternfly/spotted-lanternfly-ipm/biology-life-cycle-identification-and-dispersion/.
Deiter, J. (2018, December 7). Life Cycle of Spotted Lanternfly. Ken’s Gardens. Retrieved October 30, 2021, from https://kensgardens.com/life-cycle-spotted-lanternfly/.
Planthoppers. Missouri Department of Conservation. (n.d.). Retrieved October 30, 2021, from https://mdc.mo.gov/discover-nature/field-guide/planthoppers.
Spotted Lanternfly Quarantine and permitting. Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture. (n.d.). Retrieved October 30, 2021, from https://www.agriculture.pa.gov/Plants_Land_Water/PlantIndustry/Entomology/spotted_lanternfly/quarantine/Pages/default.aspx.
Spotted Lanternfly. Mass.gov. (n.d.). Retrieved October 30, 2021, from https://www.mass.gov/spotted-lanternfly.
Spotted Lanternfly. Spotted Lanternfly | National Invasive Species Information Center. (n.d.). Retrieved October 30, 2021, from https://www.invasivespeciesinfo.gov/terrestrial/invertebrates/spotted-lanternfly#cit.