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Spotted Lanternflies Are Resilient, But Not Invincible. Here’s What You Can Do to Eradicate Them.
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Spotted Lanternflies Are Resilient, But Not Invincible. Here’s What You Can Do to Eradicate Them.

Spotted lanternflies have been wreaking havoc on Pennsylvania trees for years, and the battle against them isn’t over. Here’s what you need to know to keep the sap-sucking insects under control.

Since the 2014 arrival of spotted lanternflies in Pennsylvania, the invasive insects have been injuring and killing trees as they crawl their way across the state’s southern counties.

The recommendations you’re likely familiar with—squashing the bugs, reporting sightings online, and calling 1-888-4BADFLY—still stand. However, you can make even more of an impact with a basic knowledge of the life cycle and behaviors of spotted lanternflies.

Here’s what you need to know to do your part in removing spotted lanternflies for good.

The Spotted Lanternfly Life Cycle

There is one generation of spotted lanternflies per year.

It’s important to be able to recognize the development stage of spotted lanternflies in each season because they don’t always resemble the red, white, and black adult bugs whose image is plastered in the media.

Developing an eye for spotted lanternflies throughout their life cycle is beneficial in the fight to eliminate the species.

What Spotted Lanternfly Stage You Should Be Looking For Now

We’re reaching the end of July, so spotted lanternflies will likely look like Stage C and D on the graphic below. Keep your eyes peeled for both the bright red detailing and black spots on the wings of mature bugs.

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Graphic courtesy of the Montgomery Township website.

What You Can Do to Eliminate Spotted Lanternflies

Band Trees

After hatching, nymphs (Stage B) will move upwards to feed on newer and softer tree growth. You can trap them as they do so by wrapping tree trunks in sticky tape.

A close up of a tree

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Photo courtesy of Editorial Intern Jada Ackley.

Make sure to check your traps daily, because there is a rare chance that birds and other small mammals will become stuck to the tape. Alternatively, you can place hardwire cloth or chicken wire over the tape bands to prevent animals from becoming trapped.

UPDATE (8/3/20: Additional comments from Philadelphia Metro Wildlife Center volunteer Karen Melton indicate that some bird species are frequently harmed by sticky tape. Penn State Extension recommends screening or netting as the most effective prevention method.)

Remove Tree-of-Heaven on Your Property

Ailanthus, or tree-of-heaven, is a resilient tree that flourishes in backyards, forests, agricultural land, and even alongside roads. It is a favorite of spotted lanternflies and a damaging, invasive species in its own right.

If you’re facing an infestation that you can’t get under control with other methods, it might be wise to cut down the tree-of-heaven living on your property. The Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture echoes this recommendation, urging individuals to mitigate the source of the lanternfly problem by removing the tree altogether.

Watch this video on how to identify it.

Check for Spotted Lanternflies Before Traveling

Check your vehicle for the insect, especially when traveling in or out of a quarantine area.

You should examine your car’s undercarriage, windshield wipers, wheel wells, luggage racks, and other hidden places where lanternflies and egg masses could be hiding.

This graphic issued in March shows existing and newly added counties to the lanternfly quarantine zone.

Lanternfly quarantine map March 2020
Graphic courtesy of the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture.

You can also help stop the spread by regularly checking outdoor equipment such as furniture, outdoor grills, mowers, and landscaping supplies.

Destroy Egg Masses Found in Winter and Early Spring

Eggs are found on hard surfaces such as trees, rocks, decks, and house siding. If you stumble across some, scrape the masses off using a plastic card or knife and put them into a container filled with hand sanitizer or rubbing alcohol.

If you don’t have an alcohol-based disinfectant at your disposal, you can crush or burn them instead.

Watch this video from Penn State University for step-by-step instructions on how to identify and remove the egg masses.

Only Apply Insecticides as a Last Resort

Don’t apply pesticides if you can manage spotted lanternfly populations using other methods.

There are numerous negative externalities and environmental risks associated with pesticides, so homeowners should seek professional advice before using chemicals to treat an infestation.

Wiping out the insect is a major priority right now, but you and your community’s health should come first. Do your research and be careful about what substances you’re introducing to your immediate environment.

Cover photo courtesy of the United States Department of Agriculture website.

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Avery Matteo
Avery is a junior at Bryn Mawr College majoring in Environmental Studies and minoring in English. She is currently an Editorial Intern at Green Philly. In her free time, you can find her curled up with an iced coffee, a book, and her adorable dog Cosmo. View all posts by Avery Matteo

5 thoughts on “Spotted Lanternflies Are Resilient, But Not Invincible. Here’s What You Can Do to Eradicate Them.

  1. I have used insecticidal soap sprayed on Lantern Flies with success.. They are so fast (leaping and flying) that I can just manage to spray them. I set my spray trigger to stun (the wide spray not the narrow stream). Then the flies either die or are slow enough for me to dispose of them.

  2. Thanks for the tip, Donna! Good to know it works on them. It’s a good idea to use the safer insecticidal soap, I use “Safer”, because it is the safest and least harmful to our environment and to essential, beneficial insects, which are in a steep decline, because of extensive use/overuse of highly toxic pesticides.

  3. Yes, I use Safer Insecticidal soap, too. The concentrate last a long, long, time. I keep a bottle in my backyard and my community garden plot. I might need one for my kitchen, as there was an adult perch on my kitchen widow screen!

  4. The article says that birds and small mammals can rarely become trapped in tree bands. In fact, this happens constantly. I volunteer at Philadelphia Metro Wildlife Center and dozens of birds have been brought to us in recent weeks by people who found them trapped in Lanternfly sticky bands. Five came in just today. Many of these are Woodpeckers and Nut Hatches. Not all can be saved, and they have suffered horribly. You should only use tree bands in conjunctions with something that will prevent birds and mammals from coming into contact with the tape. PSU Extension recommends screening or netting as more effective than hardware cloth or chicken wire.

  5. While the Tree of Heaven is their preferred host (also an invasive plant species), they have been feeding on 70 different species of tree, including a variety of fruit-bearing trees, beech trees, elms, maples, dogwoods, conifers, and many more. If you have affected trees, you can consult an arborist or environmentally-friendly landscaping company for solutions. The best, easiest, and least damaging form of mitigation is scraping up their egg sacs into bleach or other chemical solution to kill them during the fall/winter/early spring. You have to really look for them. I’ve seen them under siding eaves, on concrete, brick, trees, decks, outdoor furniture…they will lay anywhere and sometimes in big groups. Google images of them…once you see them, they’ll be easier to spot going forward. The first instar stage is also ideal to try and control them as they’re small and not quite as quick so it’s easier to target them with a small amount of diluted dish soap (blue Dawn is best and has less impact on other insects, wildlife, plants, and soil) and they die fast. Because even though they’re invasive, they didn’t ask to come here and are just doing what they need to do to survive…no need to torture them. Another thing I’ve noticed this year (they’ve been here for about 5-6 years now but only in recent years have started to really proliferate) is other natural predators are starting to come forward. I’ve noticed a lot of nymphs in spider webs so DON’T KILL SPIDERS! I don’t know if they’re eating them but they are killing them. I also saw an ant carrying a nymph yesterday. Again, not sure if it’s killing it or just came upon it and took the opportunity. Over time however, we will likely see more of this. So let our insect friends live in peace and they may become our greatest ally! Finally, something to keep in mind, just like all invasive species, trying to eradicate them is like bailing water from a sinking ship with a measuring cup. They are here to stay. So we must do our best to help keep the population under control but do it safely and with the least amount of harm to other insects, wildlife, and ourselves.

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