Posted: March 5, 2019

Their invasion of America is causing quite a commotion, but not in a cool "Beatlemania" way.

The spotted lanternfly, a planthopper native to Central Asia, has been shaking it up since it made its debut in Berks County, Pennsylvania, in 2014, and has quickly spread throughout the southeastern part of the state, much to the dismay of residents.

"The spotted lanternfly has become a regular fixture in their yards, on the front page of their newspapers, in their social media feeds, and, sometimes, even in their dreams," said Heather Leach, Penn State's spotted lanternfly extension associate, who has fielded calls from hundreds of frazzled homeowners. "They just cannot get a break."

The pest feeds on the sap of fruit trees, grapevines, hops, hardwoods, and ornamentals and can render outdoor areas unusable by leaving behind a sugary excrement called honey- dew. The only consolation is that the insects do not bite or sting, nor do they cause structural damage.

Despite not being a native species, it has established a life cycle that completes one generation each year. It begins in late summer, when adults mate and lay eggs--gray-colored, flat clusters that resemble mud--on a variety of surfaces.

While adults do not survive the winter, the same does not hold true for their egg masses, which are hardy enough to withstand brutal weather conditions. Those eggs hatch in late spring, revealing nymphs with black and white spots. As they enter their "teens," most of the insect's black markings will turn red.

By mid-summer, the insects will be adults, measuring about an inch in length and sporting artfully patterned wings of red, black, white, and tan, accented by dots. Throughout the transformation, one thing remains constant--their voracious appetite, and that has homeowners scrambling to find ways to control the clusters that have taken up residence on their properties.

--Amy Duke

Tips for home management of the Spotted Lanternfly

Fall, Winter, and Spring

Destroy egg masses

Check for egg masses on trees, cement blocks, rocks, and any other hard surfaces. If you find egg masses, scrape them off using a plastic card or putty knife, and then place the masses into a bag or container filled with rubbing alcohol or hand sanitizer. This is the most effective way to kill the eggs, but they can also be smashed or burned.

Spring and Summer

Band trees

When the nymphs first hatch, they will walk up the trees to feed on the softer new growth of the plant. Leach advises taking advantage of this behavior by wrapping tree trunks in sticky tape and trapping the nymphs. She also recommends checking the traps on a regular basis because, while rare, birds and small mammals can become stuck to the tape.

Remove tree-of-heaven

While the spotted lanternfly will feast on a variety of plant species, they have a special fondness for Ailanthus, or tree-of-heaven, which is an invasive plant that is common in landscape plantings, agricultural areas, and along the sides of roads. For this reason, there is a current push from spotted lanternfly experts to remove this tree.

Spring, Summer, and Fall

Use insecticides

When used appropriately, insecticides can be a very effective and safe way to reduce lanternfly populations. Penn State Extension currently is researching which insecticides are best for controlling the pest, but preliminary results show insecticides with the active ingredients dinotefuran, imidacloprid, carbaryl, and bifenthrin are most effective. However, there are safety, environmental, and sometimes regulatory concerns that go along with the use of insecticides, so Leach advises homeowners to do research, weigh the pros and cons, and seek professional advice if needed.

All Year

Stop the spread

Finally, Leach asks everyone to help stop the insect's spread by checking their vehicles closely--undercarriages, windshield wipers, wheel wells, luggage racks, and such--for spotted lanternflies and egg masses before traveling in and out of the quarantine zone. --Amy Duke

More information about managing this invasive pest.