Published On: Wed, Oct 31st, 2018

Pennsylvania fights back against the spotted lanternfly

(Photo: Penn State)

Southeastern Pennsylvania is currently under invasion by the spotted lanternfly, and officials say it’s time to fight back.

The spotted lanternfly was first seen in Berks County in 2014, probably after stowing away in packages shipped from Asia, and is now present in more than a dozen southeastern Pennsylvania counties, including Bucks. They’ve also been spotted in New Jersey and Virginia.

They feed on the sap from the tree of heaven, willows, and other trees, weakening them, but also have a taste for fruit products, like grapes. That’s why state officials are worried that the little bug could hurt the grape, hops and logging industries in a big way, and have already dedicated more than $20 million to combating the pest. The agricultural crops and forest products at risk in Pennsylvania are worth nearly $18 billion annually.

“Spotted lanternflies are reproducing quickly in our area of southeastern Pennsylvania, and spotted lanternflies have the potential to become a major threat to Pennsylvania’s agriculture and forestry industries,” advises the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture. “In Korea, spotted lanternflies have had a major destructive impact on grapes, and grape products such as wine.”

Tree of heaven leaves (Photo: PA Dept. of Agriculture)

“The spotted lanternfly attacks fruit trees, but not the fruit itself,” observes Pennsylvania State University on its PennState Extension website. “It uses its piercing-sucking mouthparts to feed on the sap in trunks, branches, twigs and leaves. These oozing wounds will leave a grayish or black trail along the bark of the plant. As it digests the sap, the insect excretes a substance known as honeydew that, along with sap from these weeping wounds, can attract bees and other insects, and also provide a medium for growth of fungi, such as sooty mold, which can cover leaf surfaces and stunt growth.”

There aren’t many options for homeowners looking to join the fight against the spotted lanternfly, but October brings a window of vulnerability in the lifecycle of the pest.

That’s because it’s the time of year when newly laid egg masses of destructive critter become live and viable. Adults will lay the eggs on host trees and nearby smooth surfaces like stone, outdoor furniture, fence posts, vehicles, buildings, and plastic children’s play sets.

“Newly laid egg masses have a grey mud-like covering which can take on a dry cracked appearance over time,” notes the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture. “Old egg masses appear as rows of 30-50 brownish seed-like deposits in 4-7 columns on the trunk, roughly an inch long.”

Egg mass (Photo: E. Swackhamer)

Officials say homeowners should scan their properties for the eggs, and remove and destroy any they find.

“If you see egg masses, scrape them off, double bag them and throw them away,” advises the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture. “You can also place the eggs into alcohol or hand sanitizer to kill them.”

A credit card, butter knife, ice scraper or virtually any object with an edge can be used to scrape the egg masses from trees and other surfaces.

Experts also warn people to avoid accidentally spreading egg masses to new areas by transporting undetected hitchhikers on firewood or outdoor furniture.

Officials also are asking the public to report destroyed egg masses, collect and submit specimens, and take pictures of any life stage of the insect and submit them at badbug@pa.gov.

If you can’t take a specimen or photograph, call the Spotted Lanternfly hotline at 1-888-4BAD-FLY (1-888-422-3359) with information about your sighting.

Experts say that removing tree of heaven from properties is another way to battle the bug, and homeowners can also choose to band their trees. Brown sticky tree bands are an effective, environmentally friendly way to catch spotted lanternfly nymphs, they say.

But now is the time to get outside and hunt down and destroy the eggs to make sure that new spotted lanternflies never have a chance to wreak destruction.

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