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The Invasion of the Spotted Lanternflies


Spotted Lanternflies risk severely impacting agriculture on the East coast and researchers warn that the insect may spread to the West coast within a decade. (Photo: Dave Sanders via The New York Times)

You may be asking yourself right now, “why am I looking at a picture of a weird butterfly-looking lady bug?”

Well, you’re actually looking at a spotted lanternfly. You might have seen them around campus or dead on the sidewalk. It’s like they’re everywhere.

That’s because they are.

The Lycorma Delicatula, also known as lanternfly, is native to China, but has existed in the U.S. since 2014. Now, it is taking over the Northeast and Michigan.

The bugs are easy to spot because of their red, black and white wings with little black dots, often being about one inch long and one inch wide.

“So what?” you may ask. “What harm can a tiny insect like this do?”

Lanternflies lay brown-colored eggs on dead plants and bricks and are able to lay up to 50 eggs at a time. Usually hatching in the spring, the nymphs feed on the sap of more than 70 plants, in particular grapevines, stone fruits and hardwood trees.

According to the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, the feeding stresses the plants, “leaving them vulnerable to disease and other insects.”

After feeding, the lanternflies leave a sticky residue behind called honeydew. Honeydew, then, can attract mold, which hinders the growth of the plants. According to the Department of Environmental Conservation's website, although some native insects also secrete honeydew, lanternflies exist in larger populations, meaning there is more honeydew.

An invasive species, the lanternfly risks severely impacting agriculture on the East Coast. Researchers have also warned that the insect may spread to the West Coast within a decade. Studies also show that the financial damages from the invasion can reach hundreds of millions of dollars.

Some states, like Pennsylvania, took the issue as far as instituting a Spotted Lanternfly Order of Quarantine and Treatment in 2021, making fines a possible penalty for intentionally moving the bugs from one location to another, via “recreational vehicles, tractors, mowers, grills” as well as “tarps, mobile homes, tile, stone, deck boards” or “fire pits.”

Since the lanternfly first arrived in New York, city officials have urged residents to kill them on sight.

There are still mixed opinions on whether or not they should be killed, with some people arguing that they are too cute to kill or won't do any harm.

While some argue that they are not a harm to the environment, there has been over 9,500 reports of the lanternfly in New York alone, which is why killing them is advised. It's easiest done by stepping on and squishing it well; nymphs are easier to kill as they can’t fly. Adult lanternflies can, making them slightly more difficult to kill, as once they see your feet they will usually fly away.

There are other ways to kill them or get rid of them: by cutting down trees that are already infected with honeydew, a spot to lay eggs on is taken away from the lanternflies. People are also advised to remove any items that might be infected by eggs, including childrens’ toys and firewood.

Some people have also resorted to wrapping duct tape around trees, so that when the bugs arrive for a snack, they have to go through the layer of tape, which ends up killing them. They can also get stuck on the tape and die due to lack of food.

But for the everyday pedestrian, stepping on them on the sidewalk is still the easiest way to go about protecting the environment.

If anything, it's like a game of whack-a-mole, so have fun and see how many you can kill in a day; it’s an easy way to help the environment and the neighborhood you live in.

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