Whether you prefer to kill insects or not, there is one bug that health officials in the northeastern United States want you to get rid of right away: the spotted lanternfly.
Though it appears to be a colorful moth fit for an Instagram post, it is actually an invasive species that can wreak havoc on trees, plants, and other landscapes, causing millions of dollars in damage.
The spotted lanternfly is native to China, and George Hamilton, department chair of entomology at Rutgers University, believes it arrived in the United States via a crate shipped from that country. The invasive insects, which are leafhoppers rather than flyers, were discovered in Pennsylvania less than a decade ago. They can now be seen throughout the northeast and mid-Atlantic, from New York City’s five boroughs to parts of Indiana.
They may have spread so quickly because they are difficult to detect. They’ve become such a problem, hiding on cars and packages, that New Jersey and surrounding areas have issued quarantine orders, requiring people to inspect their vehicles before traveling. In Pennsylvania, 34 counties are currently quarantined.
The good news about the insects is that they do not pose a threat to humans or pets. They do, however, cause extensive plant damage and are known to feed on over 70 different types of trees and plants.
However, the devastation does not stop there. “What goes in must come out,” says Amy Korman, a horticulture educator for Penn State Extension.
Honeydew, a sticky substance high in sugar, is secreted by spotted lanternflies. It is a mold substrate, and when it gets on plants, it prevents them from photosynthesizing, causing the plants to die. The mold that these lanternflies leave can end up in backyards and decks, attracting a variety of other bugs. According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, they have destroyed vineyards throughout Pennsylvania. According to a January 2020 study conducted by Penn State’s College of Agricultural Sciences, if the species is not contained, it could cost the state’s economy at least $324 million and result in the loss of approximately 2,800 jobs. A worst-case scenario predicts a $554 million economic loss and the loss of nearly 5,000 jobs.
The study also discovered that current spotted lanternfly-related damage is estimated to be $50.1 million per year, with 484 jobs lost.
“This insect has the potential to be a significant economic burden,” said Korman. “We’re still working on ways to manage this insect. We haven’t cracked the nut and how to really manage populations of this insect very well.”
The states affected by the spotted lanternfly have different approaches to dealing with the population, but they all have the same goal.
If you don’t want to kill a spotted lanternfly, Hamilton suggests taking a picture of it and reporting it to your state’s department of agriculture. The state of Ohio has a form that residents can use.
Scraping and destroying the eggs also aids in population control.
There are a variety of methods for killing them, including the use of pesticides or simply crushing them. Extreme heat or cold will also do the trick. Korman added that she’s heard of many different ways people have handled the insects, which has ranged from detergents, alcohol and even kerosene.
“Sometimes you have to laugh. I”s like you really came up with that concoction and you thought it was gonna work?” she said. “‘I’m always scratching my head over with the next great home remedy will be.”