With its polka-dotted wings, the spotted lanternfly is a pretty little insect. But looks can be deceiving — Lycorma delicatula is incredibly destructive. Spotted lanternflies feast hungrily on many plants including fruit trees, hardwoods, grapevines and ornamentals. As the U.S. Department of Agriculture points out: "If allowed to spread in the United States, this pest could seriously impact the country’s grape, orchard, and logging industries."
Native to southeast Asia, the pest was first spotted in Pennsylvania in 2014 and has since been detected in eight states. Several states have quarantines in place to control lanterflies. Because the insects hitch rides on wood, vegetation, vehicles and equipment, everything is inspected when going in and out of those states.
Here's how to identify these invasive pests and get rid of them.
How to spot a spotted lanternfly
First make sure the eggs or insects you see are truly spotted lanternflies. They lay eggs in the fall on hard surfaces like houses, rocks, trees and anything left outside. The eggs are protected with a waxy covering that looks like mud as it dries, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture. Each mass contains about 30 to 50 eggs.
Once these eggs hatch, the insects go through four nymph stages, reports Penn State Extension. They start at 1/2 inch or smaller, then are black with white spots, then red with white dots and black stripes. Adult lanternflies appear in July and are an inch or larger. They have black bodies with gray wings with black spots. The tips of their wings are black with gray veins running through them. Then they open their wings, there's a bright red underwing underneath. They typically jump more than they fly and they are active until winter.
Tips for getting rid of spotted lanternflies
Once you know for sure that you're dealing with lanternflies, here's how to remove them.
Lanternflies start laying eggs in October and continue through the first few hard frosts. When you see these muddy-looking masses on hard surfaces, you can scrape them off using any hard tool such as a putty knife, stick or credit card. Deposit them into a bag or container filled with rubbing alcohol or hand sanitizer. Egg masses can also be smashed or burned, says Penn State Extension.
Once the eggs hatch, the nymphs walk up the trees so they can feed on the softest, newest growth. Spotted lanternfly nymphs are found on many types of trees, but they prefer tree of heaven (Ailanthus altissima) trees. To catch them in the act, wrap tree trunks with sticky tape to trap the nymphs. You can buy the sticky tape at a garden store or online, and keep it in place (sticky side facing out) with push pins, suggests the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture. Replace the tape about every two weeks until the last week of July.
To make sure birds and small animals avoid getting caught in the tape, surround the tape in a cage of wire or make the band smaller so less sticky area is exposed.
Because lanternflies strongly prefer tree of heaven trees, removing these host trees is key in a pest management plan, says Penn State Extension. The tree is an invasive, with a bark that looks like the outside of a cantaloupe. It gets its name because it quickly can grow up to 100 feet tall and 6 feet in diameter, taking up valuable sun and water from native species.
Apply herbicide from July to September and wait at least 30 days before removing the tree. Foliar (leaf) sprays should cover leaves and shoots as high as you can reach, recommends the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture. You should also apply herbicide to a freshly cut stump to keep it from sprouting.
In addition to spraying lanternflies directly with insecticides, they can be controlled chemically by exposing them to insecticide in a plant that the insects eat. One way to do this is by establishing "trap trees." A property owner removes all but a few attractive tree of heaven trees, then treats them with a systemic insecticide. When the lanternflies feed on the tree, they ingest the insecticide.
Squash and smash
Aside from all the well-researched methods of getting rid of these harmful pests, there's one other less scientific way, though it may sound a bit violent. If you see these pesky bugs in your yard or on your trees, the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture also offers this advice: "Kill it! Squash it, smash it...just get rid of it."