Around, spotted lanternfly when fully grown, sound a little like the joke—they’re black and white and red all over. They’ve also got spots, as their name suggests.
The charming news about how interesting they look is offset by the bad news: They are an invasive species that frighten farmers because they have a taste for just about anything, and a fondness for grapes, which could have dramatic economic consequences.
Secretary of Agriculture Douglas Fisher has sought to enlist New Jersey residents in a war against the invasive creatures, as officials continue to be extremely concerned about the Spotted Lanternfly having a harmful impact on the state and its economy.
Dr. Julie Urban, associate research professor in entomology at Penn State University, says these economic consequences have already been seen in vineyards in the northeast. To keep spotted lanternflies from razing their grapes, vineyards are using more insecticides than ever – resulting in queasy images.
“You’ll walk through a vineyard and you’ll see just piles of hundreds or thousands of dead lanternfly underneath every vine,” Urban says. “It looks like they mulched with lanternfly. And more and more will keep coming in, and [vineyards] just can’t keep up.”
Many states have a unified stance on what to do if you spy a spotted lanternfly—stomp them out. But the spotted lanternfly lays its eggs on just about anything – it’s hypothesized that they came to Pennsylvania from Asia via a shipment of stone.
Spotted lanternfly is a planthopper that originated in Asia. It was first discovered in the United States in Pennsylvania in 2014. The Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture tried to limit the spread of this pest, but it excels at being a hitchhiker and is often spread unknowingly by humans.
Adult spotted lanternfly has two sets of wings, and the underwing has a very distinct red color with spots on the outer wings. The fourth instar of the insect is bright red with black and white markings.
The egg masses of this invasive insect look like mud and they can be spread by vehicle transport including recreational vehicles, cargo carriers (truck transport) and freight trains. They can also be spread through trade materials sold in infested areas that are shipped out of state including nursery stock, outdoor furniture, lumber, etc.
Anyone receiving goods from the east coast should inspect for signs of the insect, especially if the commodity is to be kept outdoors.
Spotted lanternfly prefers to feed on tree of heaven (Ailanthus altissima), but it has been found on more than 103 species of plant including walnut, oak, maple, and various fruit trees. This insect is often found on grapevines in vineyards. Adult insects have piercing, sucking mouthparts and weaken the plants through feeding on them, which can make it difficult for the plant to survive the winter months. Congregating spotted lanternfly insects produce a sticky substance called “honeydew” in large quantities that over time becomes infested with sooty mold that attracts other pests in the area.
“If you think about them getting here on stone, they can get here on anything,” Urban said. “So this is a significant economic impact to any kind of company that transports anything over state or international lines.”
For now, researchers like Urban are trying to learn more about spotted lanternfly behavior to find an effective way to lure and trap them.