On the quest to combat a pest

Did you know the spotted lanternfly can cost Pennsylvania upwards of $19 billion in lost revenue in the hard wood, fruits and hops industries? In addition to the lost revenue it can also be the cause of other states and countries enforcing trade restrictions on all goods traveling in, out and through Pennsylvania. For this reason, when the spotted lanternfly was first discovered in Berks County in 2014 the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture was quick to act. They knew the spotted lanternfly penetrated all South Korea (a country about the size of Pennsylvania) within just 3 years’ time. With the help of residents and companies, Pennsylvanians have slowed the spread, allowing scientists to discover ways to combat this invasive pest.

The spotted lanternfly loves the Tree of Heaven (Ailanthus altissima) which is also an invasive species from Asia that has spread across the United States. The tree of Heaven is very similar in appearance to the Sumac Tree. The difference can be noted in the leaves. In addition to the Tree of Heaven, the spotted lanternfly has adapted to more than 70 other species of plants, vines and trees. One can quickly see the havoc this bug can create, nationwide.

The spotted lanternfly produces one generation per year in Pennsylvania. It hatches from April until June into flightless nymphs. The nymphal stages are called, “instars”. When a nymph sheds its skin, it becomes the next instar. There are a total of 4 instar stages of the nymph. The first stage is small, like a tick though it moves faster and is different in shape. It is black with white spots. The second and third stages emerge through early summer and are also black with white spots. Each stage is bigger than the last. The fourth instars emerge by late summer and are a distinctive red color with white spots and black bands. Starting in July and continuing through September the 4thinstars turn into adults.  

Spotted lanternflies feed on plant/tree sap and excrete most of the carbohydrates they consume in the form of honeydew — a sticky, syrupy liquid. The honeydew promotes the growth of mold, which can ruin produce and cover leaves, blocking out sunlight and killing plants. They can be present in very high numbers as they tend to swarm. These swarms quickly spread by hopping or flying and in just a few hours can take over orchards.

The females, when pregnant have bright yellow bands of color on their bellies and begin laying eggs in September and continue through December. Each female lays multiple egg masses. Each egg mass has between 30-50 eggs. The female spotted lanternfly lays her eggs in rows next to each other and usually covers them in a secretion that is like putty when it is first produced but looks like dried mud within a few days.

These egg masses can be found on many different surfaces including but not limited to rocks, trees, outdoor furniture, rusty metal and plastic. The female prefers protected areas to lay their eggs such as the eaves of homes, the underside of outdoor furniture and equipment, rocks and branches. They seem particularly attracted to rusty metal.

The Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture has mandated that all businesses which travel inside and across the borders of the quarantined areas must have a permit. Violations of the quarantine could result in criminal or civil penalties and/or fines. Currently, the following counties are within the quarantine zone: Berks, Bucks, Carbon, Chester, Delaware, Lancaster, Lebanon, Lehigh, Monroe, Montgomery, Northampton, Philadelphia and Schuylkill. You can keep up to date on the quarantine zone by visiting the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture's website.

The Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture has teamed up with Penn State to help combat this invasive species. Penn State offers a free online course which will help everyone understand what the spotted lanternfly is, how it grows and spreads, as well as how to help kill this pest to slow it’s spread. This course is the permit course for the businesses who travel within and outside of the quarantine zone. Below you will find a list of informative videos Penn State has created and included in the class.

On the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture’s website you can learn what you can do at work and at home to help control and combat the spotted lanternfly. The Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture's website has a wealth of resources such asfact sheetstips for handling, a homeowner checklist and more. On their site, you can also report lanternfly sightings and report destroyed egg masses. Reporting of lanternfly sightings and destroyed egg masses will assist scientists in their quest to combat this pest!