Spotted lanternflies, sometimes also referred to as lanternflies, are an invasive species that arrived in the United States a few years ago. Since they have no natural predators on this continent, spotted lanternflies have swept across Pennsylvania, spread down to Maryland, and now are present in New York, including Long Island. This past fall, the spotted lanternfly report from the Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County found the flying insects near MacArthur Airport in Ronkonkoma. It issued an alert for agricultural producers, mainly vineyards and fruit orchards.
Spotted lanternflies are native to China, India, and Vietnam. They’re known as planthoppers because they’re weak flyers, so they mostly jump or walk and only fly short distances.
Spotted lanternflies have five stages of life, so their looks change several times, starting with an appearance like shiny black jewels with white spots. In their final adult stage, they have a distinctive look, almost like a bumblebee body with large, multi-colored wings. The front wing segment is brown with darker brown spots. The back wing part starts as red with brown spots near the body before turning white and then dark brown or black on the outer edge.
Eight Questions about Lantern Flies
- How Did Lanternflies Get to the U.S.?
Spotted lanternflies were detected in America in 2014. The National Invasive Species Information Center believes they entered the country 2-3 years earlier in a shipment of wood items sent to Berks County, Pennsylvania.
Since then, spotted lanternflies have spread out from Pennsylvania and confirmed in New York. The Cornell University College of Agriculture and Life Sciences (Cornell CALS) has maintained and updated a map of spotted lanternfly reporting.
- What Damage Does the Spotted Lanternfly Do?
Spotted lanternfly damage is worse than any other invasive species, in part due to their method of feeding. Instead of just eating leaves, fruit, or bark, lanternfly bites can penetrate the plant’s surface to suck its sweet sap, which significantly weakens the plant. Spotted lanternfly damage also includes giving off a sticky substance known as honeydew, which attracts other insects to the plant, and a sooty mold that damages the weakened plants.
If that’s not bad enough, because the plant’s essential sap is consumed, it can affect the development of any fruit on that plant before killing it. For example, infested grapes will lose their natural sweetness, making them inedible.
- What Do Lanternflies Eat?
Spotted lanternflies are an agricultural threat because of the wide range of plants they will attack. They’ve been found on more than 70 plant species, including grapevines, blueberries, hops, apricots, cherries, nectarines, peaches, plums, and more. They also lay eggs almost anywhere.
- What Trees Do Lanternflies Like?
Spotted lanternfly damage can occur to a wide range of trees, including oak, walnut, poplar, walnut, apple, peach, plum, and cherry trees. Their all-time favorite, though, is tree-of-heaven.
- Do Spotted Lanternflies Have Any Predators?
In the United States, spotted lanternflies do not have any natural predators, and that’s part of what makes them so dangerous to agriculture.
- Does the Spotted Lanternfly Bite?
Spotted lanternflies do not bite humans or animals, and their mouth is more like a beak that inserts a straw into a plant than a typical mouth that would chew skin.
- What Should You Do If You See a Spotted Lanternfly?
Spotted lanternfly reporting is essential so if you find one, first, contact the NY State Department of Agriculture and Markets. Second, check your car. The insects lay egg masses on almost any surface and are easily overlooked. Spotted lanternfly eggs on or in a vehicle can be transported to other areas, worsening the problem.
Next, squash them if you can. Spotted lanternflies tend to be fast, so it’s not easy to do, but a hard smack or stop will kill them. Mark or band any trees that are infested until action can be taken.
- How Do You Get Rid of Spotted Lanternflies?
While mechanical extermination, meaning squashing the bugs, is effective for a handful of spotted lanternflies – if you’re quick enough to make contact – it’s not practical for an entire infestation. Professional exterminators are the best solution to a spotted lanternfly infestation because of their severe environmental and agricultural threat and the difficulty in killing them.
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