August 25, 2022 – If you see one, crush it. Stomp on it until it’s dead.
This is the advice of agricultural organizations in the Northeastern United States when it comes to the spotted lanternfly, an invasive species that has spread rapidly across the country, including in densely populated urban centers like Philadelphia and New York City. Sightings of the black and orange spotted pest have been recorded in at least 11 states.
The insect is native to China, India and Vietnam. His first appearance in North America was in Pennsylvania in 2014. Since then, it has quickly spread to neighboring states by hitchhiking on plants, cars, and pretty much anything else it can latch on to. They could reach the West Coast as early as 2027, a recent study by North Carolina State University and the US Department of Agriculture warns.
Because they are planthoppers, they don’t fly. Rather, they shoot up over alarmingly long distances. While they pose no immediate threat to humans or pets, they damage over 70 native plants, including apple trees, grapevines, and other food crops, by sucking on their sap and leaving behind lots of sticky, mold-attracting feces. They are responsible for an estimated $554 million in agricultural damage in Pennsylvania alone, according to a 2019 study by Pennsylvania State University.
Some departments of state have imposed quarantine restrictions on infected counties, while others have begun research and health awareness campaigns to educate the public about why this mass introduction of colorful bugs is so bad for the environment.
“They are an economic and quality of life problem and a threat to agriculture,” said Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture spokeswoman Shannon Powers.
The public acts
All the devastation these insects wreak on food crops and other native plants explains why farming experts are pleading with ordinary people to stop their spread. And the public is growing. Self-proclaimed lantern fly hunters track and kill the invaders and share their captures on social media sites like TikTok. Some even hold lanternfly smoothing contests and share information on how best to kill as many of them as possible.
“We’re thrilled that people have come on board and are working to control spotted lanternflies,” says Powers. “Humans pose the greatest risk to the spread of the insect. We need their help.”
However, experts warn that some do-it-yourself killing methods can do more harm than good.
“With all of this social media, we often see people taking matters into their own hands and using home remedies,” says Julie Urban, associate research professor in the department of entomology in the College of Agricultural Sciences at Penn State University. “Something that might seem fairly harmless, like Dawn dish soap that’s harmless to humans, can harm trees and beneficial insects like bees. We don’t want people out there using unsafe chemicals.”
Urban recommends herbicides labeled for use on spotted lanternfly. And of course encourages her to continue squashing, especially for the next few weeks. Lanternflies use late summer to lay their eggs to ensure they are back in force next year. And since this creature has no known predators outside of its natural habitat, experts say it’s up to humans to keep stomping.